17 February 2021

And technology cannot write good poetry anyway...so there.

Apparently computers will never write good novels or poetry. That is according to a carefully crafted narrative in Nautilus by Angus Fletcher dated February 10, 2021 entitled Why Computers Will Never Write Good Novels. Thank you again to the Arts & Letters Daily website for pointing me in the direction of another story that is helping me make sense of this confusing post Trumpian and COVID world.

Angus Fletcher's thesis in Why Computers Will Never Write Good Novels is beguiling and quite encouraging, and it does seem to help neutralize Cameron Hilditch's thesis in National Review, discussed a couple of posts earlier on this blog, that Technology Will Destroy Us.

Fletcher's proposition is that because computers think only in the syllogistic Boolian language of AND/OR/NOT, which is necessarily directionaly neutral and non-causal, computers cannot create imagined causes and connections that are the essence of authentic disbelief-suspending narrative. It was quite an eye opener to me to read Fletcher saying:

Causal reasoning is the neural root of tomorrow-dreaming...
It’s our brain’s ability to think: this-leads-to-that. It can be based on some data or no data—or even go against all data. And it’s such an automatic outcome of our neuronal anatomy that from the moment we’re born, we instinctively think in its story sequences, 

Computers can't do this because computers only use:

...syllogistic thought ... composed of mathematical equations, which ... take the form of A equals Z. And unlike the connections made by our [human] neurons, A equals Z is not a one-way route. It can be reversed without changing its meaning: A equals Z means exactly the same as Z equals A, just as 2 + 2 = 4 means precisely the same as 4 = 2 + 2.

This feature of A equals Z means that computers can’t think in A causes Z. The closest they can get is “if-then” statements such as: “If Bob bought this toothpaste, then he will buy that toothbrush.” This can look like causation but it’s only correlation. Bob buying toothpaste doesn’t cause him to buy a toothbrush. What causes Bob to buy a toothbrush is a third factor: wanting clean teeth.

Computers, for all their intelligence, cannot grasp this...

Now I recognize I may be in danger of getting into a self reinforcing destructive technology bubble (where I only engage with stuff that accommodates my desires), but ...  this analysis is kinda reassuring. It might mean that technology wont be able to destroy us after all. Fletcher goes on to say:

This inability to perform causal reasoning means that computers cannot do all sorts of stuff that our human brain can. They cannot escape the mathematical present-tense of 2 + 2 is 4 to cogitate in was or will be. They cannot think historically or hatch future schemes to do anything, including take over the world.

And they cannot write literature.

So come on now all you computers and artificial intelligences, prove this thesis wrong. Write us some literature that isn't just a tossed word salad (...like most art criticism)

Can you AI overlords, even match the doggerel poetry of the last post here on the Realm of Threalm?  I hereby challenge you to do so AI.     Go on. Do your worst.

Bob

(And, just for the record; Fletch is right. Just coz I buy some toothpaste doesn't mean I'm gonna buy a toothbrush. It's more likely to mean I already have one).

 

 

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