Mike’s vlog #2


 
This is a little machine, it’s not a robot, it does loosely speaking have: Input: winding. Memory: this little cylinder. And output: sound. But it’s hardly autonomous or capable of adaptive behavior… it plays the theme from Somewhere in Time… that old Christopher Reeve movie… Karen gave it to me for an anniversary years ago… it was in my nightstand top drawer… I hadn’t wound it for maybe years… and then one day, like a year after she left, I guess I just closed the drawer a little extra hard or something and all of a sudden there’s these little notes coming from the drawer… this music, from a long ago movie about a longer ago time from a woman who used to love me… all stored on these little pin heads on this little half-inch cylinder… just sitting dormant in my drawer… forgotten… non-existent… never-having-been-existent… just dormant… and then one day you close some drawer and for a five second eternity it’s like she’s still there with you… for some lifetime of infinite thinness in time, but infinite thickness in space it’s like she never left you… and then the little spring, that’d been saving this energy from some past love, from having been wound in some distant, forgotten past… just runs down… and the dust that momentarily took the form of someone who used to love you is dust once more…

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Mike’s vlog #1


 
So, there’s this very apocryphal Nils Bohr story: someone goes to visit him, and after their visit, as they’re heading for the door, they look up and see this horseshoe over the door, and the visitor asks Bohr, “what’s that for?” And Bohr says, “well, they say it brings good luck…” The visitor says, “surely you don’t believe that?” And Bohr replies, “oh, of course not! …but they say it works… even if you don’t believe in it…”

Okay… my name is Mike Williams, and I’m thirty-six, and I’m a robotics scientist. I did my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and now I run a university robotics research lab. Robotics I would say, in my humble opinion, is really where it’s at. So Deep Blue is the world chess champion. Big deal. Deep Blue is the biggest idiot savant in the history of “life” on earth. In a person, or in a robot, there’s really three things going on, perception, cognition and action. So it’s not about calculating pi to a million digits, it’s not about playing some “simple” game like chess where a queen can be in one of sixty-four discreet places… sixty-four squares in some abstract, geometric world, it’s about the real world where you can never absolutely know anything. The real world where the queen might be part way across the line, where there’s a breeze that’s pushing her one way or another, the real world where everything you think you know is just an approximation of whatever the “real” might be.

My daughter Laura was adding computer memory the other day, and as she had the lid off the machine she just stared at all that silicon, and said, “daddy, all this electronics, this could never really be conscious, could it?” And I found myself asking her, if you “slid the lid” off a human skull, if you looked at all that gray jell-o inside, would you ever imagine that that could be conscious? We always think of the machines we make in such a limited, such a crude little way. Maybe we should turn the tables and look at ourselves. Maybe the real question is: how do you get mind from meat?

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