My favorite Fall photo for 2022 isn’t that of a grove of golden quaking aspen at the alpine altitudes of Utah. Nor is it any cluster of landscaped deciduous trees designed specifically for a Fall spectacle. It’s the photo above featuring an oak seedling under a pine tree along the side of the main drag of my neighborhood.
I must have walked by it over a hundred times on my daily walk this past Spring and Summer. But I only noticed it on that day. It was a day that the sun was at a particular angle at a particular time with its leaves’ colors “warming” (red, yellow) but still with “cool” greens for such contrast.
I missed my walk for a couple of days after I took that photo above. My knee was acting up. When I was able to take a walk again, I was excited to get to my new friend, the oak seedling. It was a cloudy day, so the photo I took wasn’t the same.
To my human brain, it certainly is the same oak seedling. It’s in the same place, looks to have the same shape. Is it as beautiful as it was a few days ago? It sure is! It’s just different lighting on this particular walk. The next day was sunny, but I took my walk two hours later than usual, so the sunlight wasn’t beaming around it the same way.
To the Universe, there is no colorful oak tree – at least not as how our brain insists on thinking about it. It is a “conditioned phenomenon”, an ethereal snapshot within a massively complex system. It is a transient image captured in my brain as something that existed at some place and time. It is, to paraphrase Heraclitus, a thing our brains think of as a river we’ve stepped in, but it’s never the same one – we never step in the same river twice.
Turing Test for an A.I.
The photo below was included in an automatically generated collage (currently on my iPhone under “For You”) of my photos it named “Good Eats”. Yes, some A.I. at Apple apparently rummages through all your photos. Most of the included photos are of “good eats”. But not the one pictured below, seemingly a piece of salmon sashimi. It’s actually a piece of calcite I found at central Utah. It’s a rock.
The A.I. that selected this photo needs to know that a sushi chef probably wouldn’t serve a such a “messy” piece of sashimi, sloppy cut and a blood line running through. A biologist specializing in salmon would probably not be able to place where this piece was carved out of the salmon. Even then, it still could not conclude confidently that this is sashimi just from this photo.
The problem with A.I. (at the time of this writing) is that it doesn’t realize what it doesn’t know. All that it knows is only what we tell it, and all that it infers is based on that. With all the zettabytes of data we have, it’s just a fraction of what is in our collective brains, our collective knowledge of all the things all eight billion of us have learned. And that’s even a smaller fraction of things our brain has abstracted from the real Universe. The A.I. would need to roam a very dynamic world for millennia to actually figure out the Universe – just as we humans have already done.
The important test isn’t so much how good Apple’s A.I. is at recognizing something. We’ve had machines stronger than humans for millennia. We’ve had machines that can output products faster and at higher quality for centuries. We’ve had machines that calculate magnitudes faster than humans and flawlessly for decades. What distinguishes we humans from A.I. is sentience. For sentient beings, it’s not the level of intelligence or even sapience that binds us all together. It’s our sentience that feels love, joy, and all the colors of pain that is still in the realm of magic as far as science is concerned.
For the last few years, we interact with people mostly as 2D TV characters through Zoom and Facetime, through abstract context-poor Tweets and texts, social distancing, and cold-hearted statistics-based (“data-driven”) decisions. That low-fidelity interaction is easy to replace with A.I. that thinks it knows everything. As marvelous as the learning rate of children may be compared to that of adults, we wouldn’t put folks under 15 years old in charge of everything. We shouldn’t risk a similar thing like that happening with A.I.
Happy Bodhi Day 2022
Mrs. Hanamoku made Bodhi Day rice and milk for today! Soon after I publish this post, I will perform my Bodhi Day services, then enjoy this meal as Siddhartha Gautama would have 2500 or so years ago.
If you would like to join my Bodhi Day service, at least in spirit, it will be at 5am Mountain Time.
You don’t need to go through all that reciting and chanting, though. Just find a place for you to sit for an hour or so, no cellphone, nothing that will try to get your attention. It can be in the middle of a busy shopping mall, as long as no one will attempt to catch your attention. Sometimes, the noisiest place is the quietest, as you can blend into that chaos.
Don’t think of your problems. Breath steadily, empty your mind, shut the f*** up, and listen without clinging to any sounds. Promise yourself you will do that every day until at least December 30 – that is the Lunar Bodhi Day, the Bodhi Day Mulligan. Your mind does not need to suffer. Be your sentience and cultivate your sapience.
Or between now and December 30, read my three favorite books. Chances are you’ve already read one or even all of them, but read them again.
I also offer the last few posts I’ve written over the past couple of months for pondering on this Bodhi Day 2022:
Faith and Patience,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku