Can We Really Trust Artificial Intelligence?

can-we-really-trust-artificial-intelligence?

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While calculation is not consciousness, my continuing interest in artificial intelligence leads me to wonder just what computer algorithms can do in terms of interpreting what is known today as “big data” – and where it might lead us.

My interest in the potential consequences of machines evaluating the information in other machines came to light a few weeks ago when I travelled out of state. While getting gas the pump malfunctioned and I moved to another pump to finish fuelling.

Then my credit card was turned down and I had to call the company. In addition, a possible “fraud alert” came in to my email. Since the pump malfunction had been odd I thought maybe I had been hacked, but when I called the company it turned out that there was no fraud at all – the “computers” had just decided that my anomaly was irregular enough to warrant inconveniencing me by shutting off my credit.

When I complained about this the fraud person said simply, “It’s our policy. If the software triggers an alert we have to act.” It reminded me of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s famous comment when asked why the banks needed an $800 billion bailout in 2007.

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He said, “The computers told us.”

The problem is that much of this “artificial intelligence” is unfounded, unproven, and just plain wrong. Just as there had been no fraud on my credit card, just a glitch at a gas pump – but how do you hold a computer program accountable?

Companies like MetaMind specialize in what is known as “Deep Learning” – using software algorithms to analyze the data that comes in.

Says Bloomberg Business News:

“The company has put free A.I. online for two reasons, [founder] Socher says: to attract clients for its customization business and to feed data to its servers so the software can keep learning. ‘As we explore and observe people using the platform, I think the platform will get smarter and smarter,’ he says.”

Here the program provides a score for how closely related two sentences are:

One of my early forays into this field of data analysis led me to the latest in “search” – and I discovered a startup called Twine – touting the future of the “Semantic Web” – so I was wondering what its CEO, Nova Spivak, is up to these days.

His new venture, Bottlenose, specializes in “Trend Intelligence” – or analyzing what is capturing the bulk of attention on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. From the site:

“[We can help] discover developing trends and get early-warnings about breaking news and emerging hot topics. Track what’s trending in your industry and among your customers to gain first-mover advantage.”

“One of the top US Cable TV networks used Bottlenose to detect and discover breaking news stories around celebrities and entertainment. Bottlenose showed them all the topics, people, photos and stories that are emerging and trending in real-time.”

One of the main applications of these kinds of algorithms is to monitor social media for references to a client’s product or service and uncover either very positive or negative references; this is part of reputation management.

Mako – the program behind the video at the top of the article – is a subscription based software package that promises that you can trash your keyboard – it lets you control your computer with your voice. This is certainly not entirely new; Naturally Speaking from Dragon has accomplished similar tasks, but the introduction of AI to voice recognition puts us into a new paradigm.

Harvard Business Review published a piece on AI for business in March. One of the insights was that “an early analytics insight at Osco Pharmacy uncovered that people who bought beer also bought diapers. But because this insight was counter-intuitive and discovered by a machine, they didn’t do anything with it. But now companies have needs for greater productivity than human quants can address or fathom. They have models with 50,000 variables. These systems are moving from augmenting humans to automating decisions.”

The HBR article mentions Watson, the IBM initiative that created the Jeopardy champion of champions using amazing search and analytic technology; the main application for Watson seems to be in medicine. Will the software carry malpractice insurance?

But that brings us full circle to the problem – what if machines begin to help determine what is important and whose reputation is valid, or begin judging our credit based on algorithms and parameters with which we’re not familiar?

Returning to the financial crisis of 2007, much of the problem centered on badly evaluated loan applications. In that situation banks were apparently approving loans based on misinformation and poor criteria. The question then becomes, would computers have fared any better?

And who is ultimately responsible or to be held accountable for these decisions?

The end user? The programmer? God? One thing is for sure – attorneys will make a fortune sorting it all out.

From The Holocaust To Gaza – A Massive Lesson That Taught Me How We All Need To Be Aware Of Our Own Bias

from-the-holocaust-to-gaza-–-a-massive-lesson-that-taught-me-how-we-all-need-to-be-aware-of-our-own-bias

In 2008, when I was going through a very low period, a life coach and friend, Freeman Michaels, listened to my dark view of the world, which I justified with my parents’ experiences in WWII, and he suggested that perhaps my “path” was to help “heal the Holocaust.”

At the time, I was appalled by the suggestion. I felt strongly that my parents’ story was extremely powerful and needed to be heard, and it was certainly not up to me to “heal.”

Later, in my work with Michael Jeffreys we discussed the work of Eckhart Tolle, and his insight that the victim “story” can have just as powerful a hold on one’s perceptual reality as the more common notion of the Ego as self-aggrandizing and achievement oriented.

This time it landed, and I began to notice the price I had paid for using my parents’ experiences as a filter for my entire life; it made me realize why I had felt so alienated and separate for such a long time. Gradually I healed, found community, continued to live “normally” and moved on.

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A great deal has happened for me in the past six years, including writing and covering conferences in the area of spirituality for Collective Evolution, so when the Gaza conflict flared up, I tried to remain conscious of how I might be triggered and affected. One aspect as an American that stunned me was how fortunate and yet insulated we are from such savagery—except of course when our soldiers come home from one of our wars. At one point I noticed myself blissfully changing the channel from the carnage on CNN to watch a tennis match from DC.

But of course I watched both the media coverage and the threads on social media, and because of my background, I became more and more troubled by the hatred expressed on both sides.

How Differing Views Led To The Loss Of A Friend

I might add at this point that my father, who survived the war in a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, was given a trip to Israel when he retired in 1980. When he returned he expressed a profound disillusionment with the Israelis’ treatment of the Arabs living within their borders, saying that he was appalled that those who had suffered such mistreatment could now mistreat others so badly.

So it was from this perspective that the other night I tried to engage some pro-Palestinian people on social media—specifically the opinions expressed by Bernhard Guenther, a film maker and speaker whose documentaries I had seen and whose work I generally appreciated.  Among other aspects, Bernhard is well versed and quotes the work of Gurdjieff, whose ideas I also greatly admire.

In my overture I suggested to Bernhard that at this point, from the Palestinian perspective, it would seem that the existence of Israel is a “done deal” – they aren’t going anywhere. From a realistic perspective, rather than spending millions on armaments to destroy Israel, wouldn’t it make more sense to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals and businesses to improve their own lives?

I was immediately attacked for my Zionist brainwashing and I can even understand that if you are made to live in squalor in a very densely confined area with such limited resources, you are angry and see it as an occupation and will do whatever you can for liberation.

Bernhard and his folks insisted I read a long diatribe on the history of the region. I reviewed it and suggested that perhaps the “story” might be dropped and that the entire situation be viewed as closely as possible from the present. At this point I was derided for being someone who reads and follows Eckhart Tolle, which is true.

But let me summarize their position as I understand it. I am familiar with it to the extent that it is also a big part of David Icke’s compelling work, in which he blames Zionists as being part of a worldwide control system; when I first heard that it triggered me too—because “Zionist” is a code word for dirty Jew.

But here is the story as I understand it. Wealthy Jewish bankers wanted a Jewish homeland (they were true Zionists) and when Germany was winning World War I, they promised Britain (which controlled Palestine) that if Britain promised them a Jewish state, then America would enter the war and Germany would be defeated.  The understanding between Britain and Baron von Rothschild is known as the Balfour Declaration.  I knew of this vaguely before I read Bernhard’s version.

When Germany was defeated it was humiliated by the peace terms and went through a horrible economic depression; of course the knowledge of the Balfour incident gave Hitler ammunition for his anti-Semitism and we know that story quite well.

So the displacement of the Palestinians, which took place after WWII, is the result of a Zionist effort going back to the 19th century, and that is justification for wanting Israel gone today. But as I suggested – Israelis are not going to be moved to Miami beach. They have achieved an economic miracle in the desert and their neighbors might be better served by following their lead; massive aid has been promised for such an effort on numerous occasions, as I understand it.

At this point I was thoroughly denounced as a Zionist dupe by Bernhard and his friends. I went and read his material again, which suggested that much of what we know of Germany’s role in WWII has been distorted. Of course as a German himself, Bernhard is also ultra-sensitive to these issues and accused me of betraying my biases.

This did trigger me, and brought up my background to Bernhard, and asked him to clarify what has been distorted. Of course this explained my “conditioning” to them completely, and I was banned from the conversation and unfriended on Facebook.

Last night I went through their material again and found a video by a documentarian who suggested that claims of gas chambers at Auschwitz were “exaggerated” and even “unproven.” This infuriated me, because in fact my mother was selected for slave labor at Auschwitz while her parents were gassed. So I wanted an answer to my question: “What happened to my grandparents?”  Did they drop mysteriously off the planet around 1943?

I knew what happened to them from my mother’s memoirs and from a precise oral history which came from my parents. The oral tradition seems quite compelling to me—it transcends the bull I see on the Internet by a wide margin—especially when I heard it first hand from my own parents.

They weren’t burning coal at Auschwitz. And those bodies they showed bulldozed on the newsreels after WWII weren’t mannequins from a department store.

A Full-Circle Perspective From My Mother’s Memoir

Before my mother’s death she dedicated herself to following such Holocaust deniers and revisionists to keep the FACTS alive. I have published her memoir for all who are interested; in it she describes how the Germans killed not just Jews, but all dissidents including gypsies and homosexuals.

Her story is not so much about the horrors which were well documented–but rather of the psychological toll such an experience takes and how difficult it is to return to “normal” life.

So hers is “the story” as I understand it, and the story I have worked through with the help of my teachers.

And NOW, I can see that from the Palestinian perspective, certainly, the situation in Gaza resembles what happened during WWII. What we have is an ancient clash of belief systems that can only be reconciled by good faith on both sides. I am still deeply disturbed to have been “unfriended” and insulted by people whom I approached in good faith and whose position I wanted to understand.

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At the same time I cannot help but be greatly disappointed by an inability to have an honest dialog on these issues precisely because I have been open to dropping my own sense of outrage, only to find that the other sides’ sense of outrage inevitably trumps mine. I am writing in the hope that those who live in the blessed freedom and relative peace here can avoid the pitfalls on both sides and figure out pragmatic solutions to the problems we face.

But I will also say that there is such a thing as relative truth—and I will end with this story.

When my mother was selected to work at Auschwitz, she dropped her eyeglasses and they broke. She fumbled her way into the crowded barracks, where she shared a wooden “bunk” with eight others, and found an old pair of glasses held together by string, which allowed her to work, survive and eventually give birth to me.  The story is in her memoirs.

Years later I found a wonderful therapist with whom to work through my demons, and whose father had also been a survivor. Interestingly from the perspective of this piece, she also worked in the Arab territories as a trauma counselor on a volunteer basis. When she helped me with my anxiety via Skype (she was over there) as I sat in fear on my couch in the comfort of my living room, I could hear bombs and gunshots going off behind her over her microphone.

When we worked through my issues in her office, however, and I told her my mother’s story of the glasses, she told me that he had taken her daughter to Auschwitz, and on the “tour” they had found an old pair of glasses in the dirt. That is a moment I will never forget. It still gives me chills and goosebumps, because it speaks to the reality of a much wider perspective which we will all need to take if humanity is to survive, much less evolve, into a truly conscious life form.

From my current perspective, all we have is the present moment in which to live honorably and productively; I am sorry if my admiration for Eckhart Tolle and his ilk overrides my desire to be “right.”

I urge those who participate online in forums like this to examine their own biases as they would those of others, and to work consciously toward a different quality of life, for the short time that we’re “here.”

The Mental Shift Of Dropping Your Illusory Comfort Zone

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One of the great benefits of beginning to see one’s mind as an instrument rather than as one’s “self” is the ability to recognize patterns and to make changes. While the question of “who” is actually making any changes (free will) remains a mystery—or rather when it becomes a mystery, amazing things can happen.

I have lived (or rather I had lived) in Los Angeles for 35 years, having moved there from the east coast in 1979 to pursue a fantasy of fame and fortune in the film business. Over those years I had made friendships, some that dissipated and others that strengthened, and gotten extremely comfortable with my environment – I lived in 3 apartments and one condo within a square mile area near my park and tennis courts, restaurants, dry cleaners, doctor and so on.

But the cost of living in LA, particularly rent, and my own changing circumstances, made me reconsider this comfort zone. And in fact the prospect of leaving caused me some anxiety—the “voice in my head,” in trying to protect me insisted that I was “safest” by staying put. In fact at my lowest point even travel seemed scary.

But I remember a Skype session with Ben Smythe, a teacher who travels widely who made me aware that my sense of control within my comfort zone was an illusion.  It was the habit of familiarity that made me feel safe but the future was still completely unknown and by no means guaranteed.

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Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone

Much of the work of neuroscientists today suggest that one of the best ways out of depression, for example, is to “do the opposite” of your habitual tendencies—to literally create new grooves within the brain.  These new neural networks serve to somehow “create” a new set of experiences which is, in many ways, a new “you.”

And again, in my work with Michael Jeffreys and the Eckhart Tolle group in Santa Monica I had come to first hand experience how detaching from a concrete sense of self reduced suffering and also led to a wide range of new experiences.

So it was that several months ago I explored the possibility of moving to Las Vegas. I had several friends in “Sin City,” which already made it attractive and serendipitously another close friend had just moved there when I took several trips to investigate potential new digs –either buying or renting a new residence.

I might mention that on a purely conceptual, fantasy level I had “priced” potential homes online—fantasizing about gorgeous places with pools and gardens at a fraction of my current rent.  But through my work I recognized that these were mental games. I had to see what actually existed. So I ended up going out and making an offer on a house I did not get, but instead found an age restricted community (over 55) that had separate homes that I could rent for a third less than I was paying in LA.

First however, I had to get my mind around the “fact” of actually moving. As I drove around Vegas I liked it more and more, but mentally LA was “home.”  It was what I was used to and where my cat was. But I also noticed that through several trips out to the desert my mind began to get more comfortable with the possibility of actually living there.  I finally applied to rent a home in Sun City, paid a deposit and began to plan my move.

The Mind’s Resistance

It was still a fantasy until I sent my first month’s rent and security deposit off by Fedex. It was at this point for me that as they say, the sh*t got real. And lo and behold, my mind rebelled. Resistance came up almost immediately. I ran into a girl in my building who had just moved back from Vegas having hated it. I had many new details to take care of—setting up services and Internet and cancelling those in LA and figuring out the logistics of moving.

Day in and day out as the moving date approached I wondered if it was worth it and whether I was making a mistake.  But my process allowed me to question both the source of the resistance, and “who” it was that was making problems.

I finally put a picture of my rented house on the desktop of my PC so I could look at it, and have it reinforce the prospect of change for the better. Was this a “vision board” technique? Perhaps – but it was just another tool that allowed me to distance myself from my habitual mental processes and take my surroundings of 35 years less seriously.

Attachment To What?

As boxes filled up my apartment, and I lived in chaos, resistance continued—suddenly it was clear that within days I would be away from my customary tennis game and several close friends would be 5 hours away, not minutes. But I recognized that my attachments were mental –things that were discarded did not matter and the energetic connection to people who mattered remained but I did not need to cling.

On moving day I got up as I had on other days, meditated and told myself that this series of present moments would be challenging but within 24 hours I would be in a beautiful new house with my cat.

After the movers had loaded most of my stuff into a truck I packed up my cat. On the way out of my apartment the cat carrier broke and she scurried away in panic. We retrieved her and put her back in and I set off, but she cried and moaned on the first hour of my trip, probably panicked that she was going back to a shelter.

The trip was surreal and it became clear to me that the journey had become feasible because I had begun to dissolve the sense of a separate self “moving” elsewhere but had simply accepted the inevitability of change as the stuff of Life. The mountains and desert were no longer an external set of material objects but simply a new “set” in which my continuing dream would play out.

A Fresh Start & A Lingering Mind

I had become familiar with my new neighbourhood and within days had discovered a tennis partner and takeout restaurants. And yet I was also aware of something else. My mind continued to rebel –its comfort zone tendencies did not embrace these new surroundings. Driving toward the mountains with no traffic seemed eerily odd but I could recognize it for what it was—a disturbance of habitual patterns that had no further reality.

Michael Jeffreys and I had often debated his statement that “Russia doesn’t exist” (unless you are physically there)—in the meantime it exists only conceptually, as does everything else.

As I drove past new and unfamiliar scenery my chattering mind asked “why” and when would I be back in my easy chair in West Los Angeles–with its 35 years of grooved conditioned memories?

Now it was a bit disorienting to consider that Los Angeles did not exist—except on Facebook or if I picked up the phone, and even then only as pixels on my computer or sounds in my receiver. But loosening the grip of physical, material reality had allowed me (or Life) to abruptly change my circumstances, and while a bit odd, they were wonderful.

When I walk out of my house (I had never lived in a house before) I am surrounded by the vastness of an open sky with no large buildings or cars but vistas of mountains and the colours of the desert.

Anxiety about having sufficient resources for retirement  (which was not entirely voluntary in this economy) were abated, and I felt suddenly charged with energy and excitement in exploring this new “comfort zone.” But the sense of a permanent physical center has been further broken down and against the habitual patterns of my conditioned “self”, the result is fascinating and exhilarating.