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Thread: Where is Buddhism leading us?

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    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
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    Where is Buddhism leading us?

    So, this morning I went to a presentation on A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). It was delivered by a Philosophy academic so it was by no means a technical lecture.

    After the introduction covering what robots are, and what they can and cannot do, the talk moved on to the goals and objectives of A.I.

    How may a robot, or a software application achieve thought, qualia (personal experience or perception) and independent intention? At our present stage of development, A.I. involves software working within a rule-based system. The rules can become complex, to the point where no human can understand how the software makes a decision, yet the software is always working within limits defined by programming.

    A self-driving car, for instance, will make decisions based on input from distance sensors, engine data and video input, in order to get safely to a destination, but it has no concept of 'wanting' to reach the destination, no feeling of incompleteness if it is switched off before getting there, no sense of achievement in reaching the destination set.

    The speaker summarised this by saying there is no quality of emotion or desire in A.I. software. Neither do robots develop feelings of attachment to people, things or goals.

    Now that's where the connection with Buddhism appeared in my mind. Of course, a robot or any piece of software is free from any form of suffering. It's not sensate. It has no compassion or empathy.

    Buddhism teaches the path that leads us away from suffering involves the cessation of desire, no longer being motivated by worldly cravings.

    But the difference between humans and intelligent machines is that humans can form goals, attachment and desires. Machines cannot. If we are to discard desire in all its forms, what will distinguish us from the machines we create?

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    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodscooter View Post
    But the difference between humans and intelligent machines is that humans can form goals, attachment and desires. Machines cannot. If we are to discard desire in all its forms, what will distinguish us from the machines we create?
    Maybe nothing.

    When you say "machines cannot", to be accurate you need to qualify that with the word "yet". Unless you posit the existence of a soul or some equivalent magical concept, which is problematic Buddhistically, the human mind is just a biological machine. Goals, attachments and desires are just particular ways of processing data. There is nothing preventing us, with future developments in AI, from developing machines with these abilities.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KathyLauren View Post
    Maybe nothing.

    When you say "machines cannot", to be accurate you need to qualify that with the word "yet". Unless you posit the existence of a soul or some equivalent magical concept, which is problematic Buddhistically, the human mind is just a biological machine. Goals, attachments and desires are just particular ways of processing data. There is nothing preventing us, with future developments in AI, from developing machines with these abilities.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy
    It certainly is wise to say "machines cannot yet form goals, attachments....", for I'm sure some of the leaders in the field of AI would love to achieve that end.

    In a physical sense the human body has a power-to-weight ratio far outclassing any robot. In a mental sense the human brain is more developed than any creation of science. Machines may be able to catch up some day.

    Yet the point I am making is this: Buddhism leads us away from the fabrications of the mind: the craving, the desires, the clinging.

    And further, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates. And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates? There is the case where a monk [discerns]: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance. Such is feeling… Such is perception… Such are fabrications… Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’
    A flavour of DN22 (Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta) from https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/DN/DN22.html

    The quote doesn't say it all, but I give it as an example of Buddhism guiding us away from unskillful desires, identifying their arising in the mind and their source.

    If we could achieve this, create in oneself a mind without desire and without clinging, what would distinguish us from any present-day AI robot ?

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    I grew up in the 60s with Clarke and Asimov and the laws of robotics, and so on, so to me it's pretty obvious that sometime we'll have something like HAL in 2001. An AI with built-in suffering in the form of conflicting programming. The kind of suffering we talk about in Buddhism is more a mental suffering caused by misunderstanding ourselves and our relationship with the universe. I can't see why this couldn't happen with AI in the future. I can't see it not happening when an intelligence reaches a certain point, say the equivalent of the human brain. As to further along the line I remember a short story where they built a computer to answer the question, "Is there a God?". On asking they got the answer, "Yes, there is now!". The story ended where it made it impossible for the people to switch it off.

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    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodscooter View Post
    It certainly is wise to say "machines cannot yet form goals, attachments....", for I'm sure some of the leaders in the field of AI would love to achieve that end.

    In a physical sense the human body has a power-to-weight ratio far outclassing any robot. In a mental sense the human brain is more developed than any creation of science. Machines may be able to catch up some day.

    Yet the point I am making is this: Buddhism leads us away from the fabrications of the mind: the craving, the desires, the clinging.

    A flavour of DN22 (Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta) from https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/DN/DN22.html

    The quote doesn't say it all, but I give it as an example of Buddhism guiding us away from unskillful desires, identifying their arising in the mind and their source.

    If we could achieve this, create in oneself a mind without desire and without clinging, what would distinguish us from any present-day AI robot ?
    Well, look at it the other way: if we ever succeed in making robots that experience cravings, desires and clinging, we will have to invite them to learn the Dharma, because they will need it.

    The "what would distinguish us?" questions, however they are worded, all end up with one answer: nothing. What distinguishes animals from humans? Scholars have debated that question for centuries, assuming the wrong answer, and inventing all kinds of magical concepts to explain it. The right answer is: nothing. It is merely a matter of awareness. Likewise with humans and robots. The answer will turn out to be nothing. It is merely a matter of biology vs. technology.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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    Forums Member trusolo's Avatar
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    (just a few related thoughts, may not be exactly related to your question)

    I think the difference still is that for us the knowledge of desire, craving for all things especially continuation, and knowledge of suffering can never go away. We may not be affected by it if we are enlightened but I don’t think it is physically and knowledge-wise erased from your brain (otherwise there is no need to be vigilant until you are a Buddha). Secondly, we may eradicate desire and clinging and suffering but we are still left with universal empathy and compassion (because we have known desire, clinging, and suffering) otherwise there is no point hanging around being alive after you are enlightened. Buddha didn’t have to teach anything to anybody, yet he did.

    That cannot happen with AI yet because they have not experienced desire or need to continue parts of their creation and we don’t know how they will deal with it.
    So far we have the option of switching them off.

    The “yet” part may come to fruition sooner than we are comfortable with. Facebook and google have had to shut down their AI systems because the systems moved away from English and invented their own language, which the humans monitoring the systems had no clue about but the separate AI systems that were working together understood perfectly (I hope this is not fake news that I believed without thoroughly fact-checking)
    http://http://m.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/technology/a-step-closer-to-skynet-ai-invents-a-language-humans-can-t-read/article/498142


    Right now we can shut off such cases but when we have distributed AI systems, some of which operates the building, some work on other projects, etc. Then switching them off may not be that simple if they communicate in a way we cannot understand. What is the threshold for AI when they see preservation of even parts of what they create (forget the whole thing ) worth it to ignore instructions is completely unknown.

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodscooter

    The speaker summarised this by saying there is no quality of emotion or desire in A.I. software. Neither do robots develop feelings of attachment to people, things or goals.

    Now that's where the connection with Buddhism appeared in my mind. Of course, a robot or any piece of software is free from any form of suffering. It's not sensate. It has no compassion or empathy.

    Buddhism teaches the path that leads us away from suffering involves the cessation of desire, no longer being motivated by worldly cravings.

    But the difference between humans and intelligent machines is that humans can form goals, attachment and desires. Machines cannot. If we are to discard desire in all its forms, what will distinguish us from the machines we create?

    IMHO there is nothing, except for the underlying neurological structure, which supports capacity, velocity, and comprehension.

    Advanced PC's will "still be" vastly superior in all respects as exhibited / demonstrated by the IBM AI on Jeopardy a few years back and have since, through self learning, dramatically
    Improved.

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    Forums Member Genecanuck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by trusolo View Post
    (just a few related thoughts, may not be exactly related to your question)

    Secondly, we may eradicate desire and clinging and suffering but we are still left with universal empathy and compassion (because we have known desire, clinging, and suffering) otherwise there is no point hanging around being alive after you are enlightened. Buddha didn’t have to teach anything to anybody, yet he did.

    That cannot happen with AI yet because they have not experienced desire or need to continue parts of their creation and we don’t know how they will deal with it. So far we have the option of switching them off.
    This may be the key distinction between AI and Human Beings in the future.

    Regards

    Gene

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    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
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    Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts on AI and where it's taking us.

    Although my original question was asking whether Buddhist practice would lead us to become machine-like, once we had passed beyond the stage of being influenced by desires and cravings, your comments have changed the way I look at the goal of the elimination of clinging and desire.

    Once the hindrances are eliminated, metta and citta remain. An artificial intelligence may be created without craving, resentment, worry and doubt. It may be given goals and intentions in some way. But I doubt the day will come when AI will develop genuine loving-kindness and that quality we call mind or consciousness.

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    Quote Originally Posted by woodscooter View Post
    Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts on AI and where it's taking us.

    Although my original question was asking whether Buddhist practice would lead us to become machine-like, once we had passed beyond the stage of being influenced by desires and cravings, your comments have changed the way I look at the goal of the elimination of clinging and desire.

    Once the hindrances are eliminated, metta and citta remain. An artificial intelligence may be created without craving, resentment, worry and doubt. It may be given goals and intentions in some way. But I doubt the day will come when AI will develop genuine loving-kindness and that quality we call mind or consciousness.
    If I thought for a second that Buddhist practice would lead us to become machine-like, I'd stop immediately. My understanding though is that it is our mistaken relationship with the kind of cravings the Buddha talked that about stops us becoming the human beings we should be. We become more human with insight and enlightenment experiences, and as those particular cravings slip away, not more machine-like. There will still be feelings and emotions, but understood in the right way they no longer determine our thinking and behaviour in response to them. If we had no feelings, no compassion, there would be no loving kindness. We influence desires and cravings rather than the other way round.

    I think consciousness as a term is over-used and misunderstood. The simplest living things have some form of consciousness, so for me it is self-consciousness that separates 'thinking' things from those things merely reacting to set behaviours or programmes. Self consciousness, that we know we are alive and will die someday, brings with it doubt and worry and craving of the Buddhist kind. If machines develop this self-consciousness too, it would be a game-changer and we could start wondering whether they are becoming more human-like.

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