Tag Archives: deception

How Advanced AI Will Create Figurative (And Literal) Magic

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If you went back 50 years and showed someone your smartphone, chances are they would be amazed. To them, such technology would seem downright alien. However, they probably wouldn’t think it was magic. Go back 500 years, though, and chances are they will think a smartphone is magic, miraculous, or a tool of the devil.

Just look at what a smartphone does and compare it to the magic of old. You can ask it a question and, depending on how well-worded it is, it’ll give you an answer. If you ask it to make food, clothes, or tools appear, it’ll make that happen too. Thanks to services like Amazon and Grubhub, this isn’t magic to most people. In fact, it’s downright mundane.

Granted, these things won’t appear instantly out of thin air, but depending on your willingness to pay for quicker shipping, it will get there. By medieval standards, that’s basically sorcery.

You don’t have too far back in time to appreciate the magic of modern technology. Most of us don’t understand how it works. We don’t know what makes the screens on our phones light up when we push a button or how our car moves when we press the accelerator. We understand that there’s science behind it and it’s not magic. It just feels like it from a certain perspective.

Famed science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, once said that magic is just science we don’t understand. It was one of the three laws he used in contemplating the future. Time and a host of amazing advances have proven the validity of this sentiment. We’ve created materials once thought to be impossible. We’ve uncovered phenomenon that seem to undermine our understanding of physics.

This is to be expected because our understanding of the universe is incomplete. We have some pretty solid theories so far, but there’s still a lot we don’t understand. As we learn more, some of the things we discover may seem magical. Even in a world that is more educated than it has been at any point in human history, there may still be forces that our primate brains just can’t make sense of.

To some extent, it helps that humanity is making these discoveries through their collective effort. It helps us accept a seemingly-impossible idea if it comes from a member of the same species. What happens, though, when we gain knowledge from something that is both not human and many times smarter than the entire human race? Will it seem like magic to us?

I argue that it would. I would also argue that we’ll be seeing this kind of magic sooner than you think. It won’t come from some enigmatic sorcerer with a thick beard, a white robe, and an uncanny resemblance to Ian McKellen. It’ll likely come from the world of advanced artificial intelligence.

In the past, whenever I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence, I’ve focused on its potential to fundamentally change our civilization and what it means to be human. I haven’t touched on how it might work, mostly because I’m not nearly smart enough to make sense of it. However, that gives me more in common with the experts than you think.

In the emerging, but rapidly growing field, of artificial intelligence, there’s a strange phenomenon known as black box AI. Simply put, this when we understand the data that goes in and comes out of an AI system. We just don’t know how it went about processing that data. It’s like putting a slab of meat in an oven, pressing a button, and getting a Big Mac without knowing how it was made.

It’s not quite magic, but it’s a manifestation of Arthur C. Clarke’s ideas on science and magic. AI systems today are advancing at a pace that we can’t hope to keep up with. We already have systems that can surpass any human in terms of Jeopardy, chess, and Go. We don’t yet have a system that has the same intellectual capacity of an adult human, but most experts believe we’re well on our way to achieving that.

When that day comes, we may very well have an AI that does more than just process data in ways we don’t understand. Once an AI is capable of matching or exceeding the intellectual capacity of an average human, then it’s likely the black box phenomenon will become more pronounced.

Imagine, for a moment, we had an AI that was smarter than even the smartest human beings on the planet. We go to that AI, we feed it every gigabyte of data we have on human biology, and ask it to surmise a cure for cancer. It takes only a few seconds to process all that data. Then, it spits out the formula for something that has eluded generations of doctors with ease.

We don’t know what form it may take. We may not even fully understand the components of it. However, it still works. From our perspective, it’s akin to a magical healing elixir straight from the world of Tolkein. We assume there’s some sort of science behind it, but we’re utterly baffled by the specifics. We just know it works.

It goes beyond medicine, as well. With an even more advanced AI, we could feed it every one of our most advanced theories about physics, biology, chemistry, and cosmology. We could then ask it to fill in all the gaps. Again, it gives us an answer and suddenly, we have a Theory of Everything.

We probably won’t understand the details. We may find out that we were dead wrong about particle physics, cosmology, or why our cell phone can’t hold a decent charge anymore. The knowledge such a system gives us could end up being so advanced that we literally do not have the intellectual capacity to understand it. It would be like an ant trying to do calculus.

In the same way a magnifying glass must seem like magic to an ant, the knowledge an advanced AI gives us may seem just as extraordinary. That’s especially true if we give that AI access to a 3D printer, a molecular assembler, or anything it could use to actually craft something.

That could be especially dangerous. For all we know, a sufficiently advanced AI could take a stack of dirty dishes and turn it into a nuclear bomb. We would have no idea how it would work. It would, for all intents and purposes, seem like magic to us. This thing would be doing something that our brains and senses tell us is impossible.

As the AI gets more advanced, it’s abilities and feats become more magical. At that point, it’ll be harder to accept that what it does counts as science. These advances are no longer coming from the efforts of people. They’re coming from a machine that’s millions, if not billions, of times smarter than any ordinary human could ever hope to be. How could it not magical from that perspective?

Throughout human history, sane and competent people have believed in magical things. Not long ago, people believed they could talk to the dead. Sir Isaac Newton believed in alchemy. Alfred Russel Wallace believed in literal spirits. Despite these beliefs, there was an important context to all these perspectives.

They emerged out of our collective ignorance of the world around us. We had nothing but our brains and our senses to make sense of it all. Since both can be easily fooled, as any competent street magician will attest, it doesn’t take much to get people to assume magic. An artificial intelligence would circumvent that context because it has something better than magic.

An advanced AI is not bound by the same senses that constantly fool ordinary humans. It doesn’t even have to misdirect or trick us. It only has to show us ideas and concepts that are completely real, but totally incomprehensible. The entire human race could spend a million years trying to understand it and it still wouldn’t be enough. It would still seem like magic to us.

That notion seems scary on paper and more than a few people have voiced concerns about this. However, all that magical thinking will only occur if our human brains remain unchanged and unenhanced. That’s not likely to be the case. Between the emergence of neural implants and the ongoing development of brain/machine interface, we’ll find a way to keep up with AI. If we want to survive as a species, we’ll have to.

Even if we do somehow keep up, there may still be aspects of advanced AI that seem like magic to us. That may always be the case, so long as we retain part of our caveman brains. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. No matter how smart or advanced we get, it helps to see a little magic in the world. With advanced AI, though, the rules for magic are bound to change, among many other things.

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When Love (And Lust) Is Genuine

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Does she love me?

Does she love you?

Is our love real?

Is the sex good?

Is the sex really that good?

Is this love the real deal?

These are all questions I’m sure everyone has asked themselves at some point. If not, then chances are you’ll ask yourselves these questions at some point in the future. Sometimes you may not even ask them with a completely sober mind and I’m not just talking about shots of tequila.

Love, lust, and everything in between is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the most powerful experiences we can have as human beings. In fact, according to research from MIT, being in love can produce a high similar to that of cocaine. In another life, maybe Pablo Escobar could’ve been the ultimate love guru. I guess we’ll never know.

I know I say it a lot, but it’s worth saying again, especially for a topic like this. We are a very social species. The human race thrived, despite bodies that were easily crushed by hungry bears, because we could collaborate and cooperate. We worked together, shared resources, and made beautiful love that resulted in more humans. Now, we’re the most dominant species on the planet. Bears just cannot make that claim.

As beautiful as it is, sometimes the answers to those questions are tragic, if not downright heartbreaking. It does happen. Sometimes the love two people have isn’t real. Sometimes the lust they feel is fake. Sometimes the sex is only a minor step above having someone watch while you masturbate. The challenge is finding out how to answer these questions.

I bring up this topic because I recently got into an interesting discussion with some people on a comic book message board. Now in general, I try to avoid most of the discussions on message boards. I’ve found that over 95 percent of them involve fans whining about the current situation in their favorite comics and how they hate it so much, but not enough to stop talking about it.

Every now and then, though, there will be a more meaningful conversation. I really enjoy being part of that conversation because it brings out some interesting perspectives. A lot of those perspectives can apply to real life, even in comics that involve clones, time travel, and poop jokes. Yes, I’m referring about Deadpool.

Specifically, the conversation I had involved a discussion about how genuine the love and romantic chemistry is between two particular characters. In this case, one of those characters was Spider-Man, whose romantic history is almost as vast as Wolverine’s. While I do criticize Spider-Man for being an incompetent hero, the man is still pretty good when it comes to getting laid. For that, I do respect him.

However, like a lot of comic book characters and real people, his love life is subject to a lot of variations. There are times when his emotions are not entirely sincere. By that, I mean he’s with someone because they’re there. That’s it. Then, there are times when he really does love someone, enough to marry them and make a deal with a devil with them. Like I said, there’s a lot of range with Spider-Man.

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of these situations. Within the discussion I had, there were all sorts of conflicting opinions about just how sincere Spider-Man was and how much potential the relationship actually had. For every one person in the discussion, there were at least five different opinions, including my own.

Comic book fans are notoriously stubborn for how their characters are portrayed, but when it comes to our love lives, the stakes are a bit higher. In the discussion, I noticed a few common themes that set genuine love apart from the kind of love that end with Spider-Man getting his ass kicked by the Green Goblin.

One of those elements is luck. I know that doesn’t sound very romantic, but it’s an unavoidable function of life. Sometimes you’re in the right situation at the right time to take advantage of something, be it love or a winning lotto ticket. You can’t always control it, but it happens.

With respect to genuine love, though, luck plays a very specific role. If a relationship relies on luck to work, then that relationship is basically a reverse lottery. Over time, the odds just aren’t in anyone’s favor. The Law of Averages is both a harsh mistress and an outright sadomasochist. Spider-Man finds that out on a regular basis with how badly his relationships turn out, often due to forces he can’t control.

In addition to luck, there’s also the chemistry aspect. This is much sexier and much more romantic than luck. There’s no question about that. It’s also one of the hardest component to really nail down.

We all understand what romantic and sexual chemistry is to some extent. If two people are drawn together and struggle to keep their clothes on around each other, that’s a sign of pretty potent chemistry. Like real chemistry, though, some mixtures are more potent than others. Some are downright volatile.

If the chemistry is restricted to lust, then that’ll make for some hot sex. However, it won’t make for much else. Now I’ve got nothing against hot sex. It’s a wonderful part of being human. It can just be shallow and crude though. It can be a key ingredient for sexual chemistry, but it can’t be the only ingredient.

Add love to the mix and that’s where the potency shows. Genuine love complements one another. Genuine love involves two people cooperating, sacrificing, and sharing on a level that you just don’t do with a total stranger. Genuine love is usually equal for the most part. It’s rarer than hot sex, but beautiful. It even shows up in an X-men comic every now and then.

Lastly, one key element in genuine love involves reasons and excuses. I know this isn’t very sexy either, but it’s a necessary practical element of love. It can be either the glue or the napalm that binds/destroys a relationship.

Specifically, it deals with the how and why two people are involved in the first place. If they’re in an arranged marriage, which still happens a lot these days, then that’s a fairly unambiguous reason. If they’re together because they just don’t want to be alone, then that’s not much of a reason. That’s more of an excuse.

Sometimes Spider-Man is just with someone because they’re part of his life. They happen to cross paths with him both in and out of the mask. That’s often the case with characters like the Black Cat, whose about as genuine as a very hungry, very horny wolf. It rarely makes for a very genuine connection.

Sometimes two people start out as friends and the connection deepens. This often happens in a lot of teen movies and sitcoms, but it happens in real life too so it’s not entirely flawed like most movie tropes. That can sometimes be a solid foundation for genuine love.

There are also cases where two people are together purely for pragmatic reasons. A beautiful woman is with a man because he’s rich. A man is with a beautiful woman because she’s sexy. Sometimes people are just friends with benefits. That does happen and can work, despite what an Ashton Kutcher movie may claim.

That doesn’t mean pragmatism is necessarily genuine though. If two people are together because not being together would be too much work or too inconvenient, that’s not genuine. That’s just plain lazy. If two people are together because one has a great deal of leverage over the other, then that’s not genuine either. That’s exploitation.

Overall, there are a lot of components that go into a genuine romance and, without spoiling too much of the discussion I had, Spider-Man sucks at it. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Starfire, to some extent, have a much better track record.

In the real world and throughout history, you’ll find plenty of examples of genuine love. They don’t always make for great stories or good erotica/romance, but that doesn’t make them any less genuine. In the end, genuine love combined with genuine lust makes for the best and sexiest connections. Not everyone can find it, but that’s what makes it so precious.

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Sex, Lies, And The Future Of Truth

Admit it. You’ve lied before. Maybe it involved drinking in high school. Maybe it involved  strippers at a bachelor party. Maybe it involved a promise to pull out. Whatever the case may be, regardless of whether you got caught or ended up paying child support, you’ve lied at one point in your life. As the great Dr. House once said, “Everybody lies.”

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with lying. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re lying to tell a story, which is basically what I do as a writer, then it’s not wrong. If done right, it can actually be pretty damn sexy. If you’re lying to deceive a lover, cheat on your taxes, or prevent your children from knowing about condoms, then that’s pushing it.

I bring up lies because, in watching my share of both superhero movies and romantic comedies, there is one common theme that binds many of these conflicts. No, it’s not Robert Downy Jr. or Hugh Jackman’s sex appeal. It’s that a lot of these plots are built on someone lying and working way harder than they need to in order to keep up the lie.

Take “The Proposal” with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock for example. In addition to being one of my favorite romantic comedies of the past several years, it’s entire plot was built around a lie that Bullock’s character crafted and Reynolds had to help preserve. Sure, it made for a hilariously entertaining story, complete with awkward nude scenes and moments with Betty White, but it was all built on the foundation of a lie.

Why do I bring up lies? Well, to answer that, I’ll have to get a little personal again and this time, it has nothing to do with me sleeping naked.

I’ve gotten a lot of romantic advice over the years from friends and family. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it just plain crazy and involves some rather improper uses of food. However, within the good advice I’ve gotten, there was one common theme and it amounted to this.

DON’T KEEP SECRETS.

I write that in all caps and bold because they didn’t just tell me this as a casual aside. They made it a point to really emphasize the importance of being honest with those you love. No relationship can really function in the long run when both sides are keeping secrets. Say what you will about the Bundys or the Simpsons, but they are honest with each other, often brutally so.

Beyond the advice, there are a lot of romantic stories that involve secrets, lies, and deception. It’s not always in the smooth, sophisticated ways of James Bond either. Stories about lies, affairs, and elaborate deceptions are basically the bread and butter of these stories.

I’ve certainly used those themes. In “Skin Deep” and “The Escort and the Gigolo,” a big chunk of the plot is built around certain lies and deception. Not all of them are intentional either. Sometimes, the characters just don’t have a reason to believe someone is telling the truth.

This brings me to another thought experiment of sorts. Granted, it’s not exactly the sexy kind, but it has the potential to be. It involves the ways in which we expose lies. At the moment, we really can’t be 100 percent sure if anyone is telling the truth. We can’t even be 80 percent sure. People who lie, cheat, and manipulate others still operate and thrive in this world. Just ask Bernie Madoff.

Our entire justice system is built on the understanding that we can’t exactly know for sure whether someone is guilty or innocent. We can put them under oath all we want. People can and will still lie. That’s why we have principles that presume innocence and require that we prove guilt, and the lies by default, beyond all reasonable doubt.

As good as our justice system has served us, to a point, it still struggles to uncover lies. It can interrogate and intimidate all it wants. It won’t always be able to get out the truth. In fact, it can even create even more lies in the process.

This is where the thought experiment comes in. What if we had a device that could, with nearly 100 percent accuracy, tell whether someone was lying? What would that do to our justice system? What would that do to our relationships with others? Would it effectively force us to be more honest with our friends, family, and intimate lovers?

This is another one of those thought experiments that isn’t overly fanciful. Creating devices to detect lies is not a new idea. In fact, it’s been in development for over a century.

Contrary to popular belief, however, there is no functioning “lie detector” yet. Those who claim there is are probably referring to a polygraph. A polygraph is not a lie detector. If anything, it’s a stress detector. It doesn’t detect lies. It detects the stresses on your body. I’m sorry if this completely changes how you see “Meet The Parents,” but that’s the hard truth.

For that reason, the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that the vast majority of research on the use of a polygraph for lie detection is unreliable, bias, and unscientific. It’s also why polygraph tests aren’t considered a reliable form of evidence in a court of law.

This is because it is possible to fool a polygraph. It’s been done before. There are even entire YouTube videos dedicated to helping people beat a polygraph. As a lie detector, it’s not much better than flipping a coin.

Beyond the polygraph, which only measures physiological responses, there is another emerging technology called fMRI, or Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This technology is more functional in principle because it measures the very source of all lies, namely the human brain. However, our limited understanding of how the brain forms lies prevents it from being a full-fledged lie detector.

Even so, the use of fMRI has been shown to be an effective way at detecting lies. It’s still not perfect. In an episode of Mythbusters, one of the hosts was able to beat an fMRI. If it can be done on a TV show, then what hope does it have in a court of law with people who lie for a living?

Despite this flaw, research has shown that an fMRI was able to detect lies with 24 percent more accuracy than a polygraph. Overall, it’s accuracy is about 78 percent. That’s pretty good. If it were a winning percentage in baseball, it would be a playoff team. However, when you’re dealing with law and relationships, 78 percent just isn’t enough.

At the very least, the technology is improving. As the science of brain imaging continues to improve, it will eventually be possible to detect lies within someone’s brain with a degree of accuracy that would make every court drama much more boring.

There may even come a day where detecting lies is as easy as talking into a smartphone. Remember that smart blood I mentioned a while back? Well if someone had that in their system, then their brains could be scanned in real time. That means people could know whether they’re lying in an instant. That would basically destroy the entire pick-up artist community.

Now that kind of lie detection is a long way off. However, and I know I say this a lot, there may come a day within our life time when this technology is functional. Given the ongoing development into fMRIs, it may only be a matter of time before someone creates a system that can detect lies with 99 percent accuracy.

What will this mean for criminal justice? What will this mean for divorce proceedings? What will this mean for relationships in general when people know there’s a way for their lies to be exposed? It’s a strange and ominous idea to imagine, but the cold hard truth is that we may have to deal with sooner than we think.

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