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Fail Better. The Illusions of Artificial Intelligence.

“The difference between the mathematical mind {esprit de geometrie) and the perceptive mind {esprit de finesse): the reason that mathematicians are not perceptive is that they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the exact and plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning till they have well inspected and arranged their principles, they are lost in matters of perception where the principles do not allow for such arrangement. . . . These principles are so fine and so numerous that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to perceive them, and to judge rightly and justly when they are perceived, without for the most part being able to demonstrate them in order as in mathematics; because the principles are not known to us in the same way, and because it would be an endless matter to undertake it. We must see the matter at once, at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least to a certain degree. . . . Mathematicians wish to treat matters of perception mathematically, and make themselves ridiculous . . . the mind . . . does it tacitly, naturally, and without technical rules.”

— Pascal, Pensees


“Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”

—“The Ultimate Computer,” D.C. Fontana (based on a story by Laurence N. Wolfe)



While working as James Joyce’s assustant, Samuel Beckett recounts how one day, while taking dictation from Joyce, there was a knock at the door and they were interupted. Joyce said, “Come in” and when they were again at work, asked Beckett to read back the last lines Joyce had spoken. So absorbed in the task at hand, Beckett had incorporated the statement and apologized but Joyce concidering the opportunity, said no, it serves to enhance the theme and the story, let’s keep it.

People who speak about Artificial Intelligence are quick to hilight how AI will be able to learn to replicate human thought.

Being scientific, and essentially vis the Ars Poetica, functional illiterates, they ignore the essentialism of mistakes.

“Mistakes” cannot be programed or hardwired into an Operating System, a priori which means, AI can never be “human.”

Onviously this is a contradiction and one that seemingly has been ignored.

A program by definition is designed to avoid mistakes. The plasticity of human consciouness allows for mistakes to exist in multiple fields or undefined states. In these super-positions or entanglements, a thought is both a mistake (a deviation from a plan or from an action) and a possibility.

Or a mistake is a deviation and simultaneously a neutral state neither completely incorrect nor adapted to a different condition in which it is repurposed as a success.

The third condition is when a mistake remains a mistake and is discarded or corrected.

An analogy would be when an athlete aims for x, but mistakenly hits y but in doing so achieves the original target – the “lucky bounce of the ball” resulting in success in spite of the “mistake.”

Or, the ability of James Joyce to adapt and transform a “mistake” into a “successful application.”

For a system that runs on zeros and ones and algorithms, the dilemma is, how to “program a mistake” algorithm when by definition “mistakes” cannot be built into the system without violating the nature of the operating system.

The answer of course is that the adaptive aspect of creativity as a reflection of plasticity in human consciousness cannot be programed and if it were it would not be a program any more than a chessboard with fewer than 64 squares is still a chessboard.

The allure or fetish of AI, is that of the sophisticated slave. The AI is sold as all but human – able to imitate every aspect from sex to preparation of food or the completion of menial tasks, or complex ones such as delicate surgery or dangerous endeavors otherwise life threatening or specifically deadly to humans. Basic forms of creativity are always included like, playing a musical instrument or singing. But in those cases the AI has been programed to operate and even if it “learns” a new piece of music it will either repeat the material by rote or malfunction but it can not hit a bad note and incorporate that into its routine and then generate a new piece of music.

At the heart of this is the disregard and lack of understanding by the technology community for authentic creativity. Ginned up by their isolated autism societies and the cult of money into believing that they are themselves creative if not Artists, they are in truth functional illiterates – despite notable exceptions. Those exceptions are not unimportant but even with the few tech “geeks” who read widely (e.g., Bill Joy) the dominant aesthetic is of a banal second rate William Gibson imitator – devoid of the subtly and of course creativity – resulting in various Blade Runner visions essentially unchanged since the “Golden age” of sci-fi from the 1930s.

This in turn reaches back to the 18th century and the moment defined by Mary Wollstonecraft’s monster. The monster in turn is human and though physically stronger, in the end prone to the same decay as its creator – thus, no different or, defined by a distinction without a difference.

In popular – that is, mass produced artifacts of the Culture Industry – AI is in the end always a threat due to superior abilities. However, it is the less able – slower, physically weaker – human who triumphs and almost always because of subtle but more powerful elastic reasoning.

These curios of cheep marketing are both irrelevant in their most disposable form (i.e., truly bad films and stories) and authentically toxic sales pitches in their more sophisticated forms (i.e., & e.g., Blade Runner’s Replicants, and the “robots” of Ex Machina or the few but better iterations in things like, Interstellar) designed to promote the triumph of the Silicon Valley Will.

This is a merging of the autistic sociopathic geek culture with the standard templates of end phase capitalism which is quickly running out of distance between the illusion of serving a “free society” and the consequences of artificial scarcity – which requires wage slaves.

As machines “smart and dumb” increasingly replace human labor, and as artificial scarcity grows while destroying the environment the tech cult centers of the system increasingly push the narrative that AI will “save us.”

The truth of course is that if machines replace human labor either the ruling class will have to bribe former workers to be complacent or will have to beat them into submission or engage in some sort of carrot and stick combination of both.

Here one must also make a distinction between the ruling class in the tech imperium – the multi billionaire psychopaths who have no remorse about using slaves to turn a profit – no qualms about millions of Chinese slaves at the Foxconn plantations or in gulags engaged in the drone labor of making slave manufactured government sanctioned tracking devices – and those inside their cult who operate as foot soldiers and may themselves suddenly find that they have been replaced by the machines and systems they helped design.

This does not mean they are innocent or aware of how their tautologies are as short-circuited (sic) as the rest of their cult. It does aim to highlight crucial nuances and to pinpoint the origin and nature of certain states of anxiety based ultimately on financial status with corollaries attached to class and education.

What remains though is the inability of the technology cult(s) to comprehend the fact that they have amputated a key fact of humanity from their calculations.

Driven to achieve both perfection and a quantifiable way to measure success, the idea of the uses to which one can put “mistakes” is a kind of disease vector ruthlessly eliminated from their thoughts since they were children programed by their parents, their culture and the various cults of success that dominate the world.

Consider that every so often one sees a media propaganda report about some teenager or adolescent who has graduated from an institution of higher learning – Yale, Harvard, MIT – round up the usual suspects – with a degree – or several – in, computer science, mathematics, or some other STEM cog.

What you never see is someone of the same age graduating with advanced degrees in Literature, Philosophy or Anthropology and while they can solve advanced math problems were you to ask them about the color green and Gatsby, and the light at the end of the dock, or how Moon for the Misbegotten is formula that explains space-time-consciousness, they would stare blankly and in order to avoid a short circuit – i.e., a nervous breakdown – they would run away.

Decades ago, C.P. Snow tackled this problem from the side of the sciences in The Two Cultures. Though later mugged by F.R. Leavis, Snow was not completely wrong but crucially, while correct in pointing out the general dearth of literary minds to comprehend the sciences, he was catastrophically ignorant of the fact that the sciences were essentially functional illiterates and that the Thermodynamics of Joyce and Faulkner and Modernism as a whole – the Quantum Physics of Pynchon and Calvino – were so far beyond the grade school abilities of the cadres in the sciences that while the Two Cultures were warring tribes it was also true that the sciences were as much sinners as sinned against.

The fundamental, if not militant antagonism, towards the Ars Poetica, stretches back to the beta test of fascism in Plato’s Republic. We live in the long shadow of Plato’s fear that the poets would gin up the otherwise somnambulate masses by offering them a curated provocation – the imagined.

This fiction, this simulacrum of reality was itself an authentic experience and thus while stealing a march on Plato’s Gulag was, quite simply, more fun.

The cult of facts has all but exterminated culture and left in its place an invasion of the body snatchers blow up doll devoid of everything enjoyable and useful.

At no point in our sham political discourse will you see even a thin strip of media real estate devoted to using Art as a prism by which reality can be contextualized.

As a result “Trump” is subjected to the endless binary imitation dissections of combatants inside a proscribed steel cage death match devoid of subtly, nuance, contradiction, or intelligence let alone sophistication.

That “Trump” might be Big Daddy and that one might see Jared as Brick and Ivanka as Maggie the Shiksa Goddess simmering on a hot tin roof, that one might see “Trump” as Lady Macbeth or the low rent contemporary iteration of Macker’s ruthless better half, Cersei Lannister, is of course not even a possibility. Not only because the gatekeepers are functional illiterates but because the marketing goons, relying on algorithms and their own innate ignorance and militant commitment to the desiccated requirements of their Tupperware imaginations, have no clue that there is a rich vein to be tapped and utilized. Besides, it doesn’t fit within the dictates of the cool medium and yelling is more profitable.

In the late 1950s the colonies of the Military Industrial Complex following on from Colossus and Alan Turing, set about creating the first versions of Artificial Intelligence. Part of the effort to use Nazi minds to create the New World Order they were almost instantly confronted by the obvious questions – manifested in Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove and various episodes of Star Trek TOS and HAL 9000 – the idea that machines cannot and should not replace the lump of matter atop the semi-intelligent bipedal ape.

Promising a modern Arcadian reality they ignored the anxiety and flush with patronage from the byzantine corporatocracy they pushed ahead.

Countering their philosophical platonic certainties, Hubert Dryfus, wielding Heidegger and Wittgenstein and – horrors a French lefty intellectual – Maurice Merleau-Ponty – went back to Pascal to highlight the defective thinking behind the premise that the mind could be replicated and programed by starting at the level of the sub-atomic detail and working up to gestalt.

The human mind, being integrated with the whole, said Dryfus, (following on from Ponty who was standing atop Pascal who was arguing with Leibniz* who was trying to get patronage to fund his research into his assertion that everything could be reduced to a formula) was not reduceable.

From the introduction (by Anthony G. Oettinger) to Dryfus’ seminal work, What Computers Can’t Do:

“”There is no justification for the assumption that we first experience isolated facts or snapshots of facts or momentary views of snapshots of isolated facts and then give them significance. This is the point that contemporary philosophers such as Heidegger and Wittgenstein are trying to make.” The burden of artificial intelligence is indeed its apparent need to proceed in futility from the atom to the whole. People, on the other hand, effectively seem to perceive first a whole and only then, if necessary, analyze it into atoms. This, Dreyfus argues following Merleau-Ponty, is a consequence of our having bodies capable of an ongoing but unanalyzed mastery of their environment.”

As a result Dryfus concluded, AI’s goal was as e.e. cummings said in a slightly different context, like attempting to squeeze your balls through a straw. You might in the end be able to do it but, why would you want to and at what cost.

Irritated by his scorched earth logic and rhetorical style, and by the fact that he was right, the militant cadres arranged against him as an army of dunces retreated into pique and refused to talk to him.

Entitled to their opinions but subject to the wind shear of the stubborn facts they of course lost the argument but won the war because they, unlike Dryfus, had funding from the people who were going to bring you DARPA and surgical strikes which makes industrial scale genocide sound better when mentioned between commercials.

But Dryfus was correct and remains correct.

The one thing he seems to have ignored is the essentialism of the mistake.

When confronted by questions about scale (and claiming that scale or speed and raw computation power are synonymous with thought – as in, how do the proponents of AI plan to program a machine to replicate the complete works of “Shakespeare” – the answer is a smug demonstration of Big Blue White Whale machines able to calculate variables at such staggering speed that, claim the cult’s PR hacks – “Shakespeare” is reduced to a trifle.

Alas for them, though able to live inside a crab shell, marching sideways and count themselves the king’s of infinite space, the mistake with two thirds of its importance beneath the surface looms large and unavoidable.

To program mistakes is to eliminate spontaneity and chance. To eliminate spontaneity and chance is to eliminate human consciousness and therefore Artificial Intelligence is revealed to be an unintentionally ironic title – more like Genuine Artificial Leather than authentic leather or authentic intelligence.

“Come in” Said Joyce, leaning against the men we call “Homer” his voice a candle in a strong breeze, illuminating the implacable truths.

Or as his sometime assistant said: Fail better.




It is well worth noting that there is a meta issue surrounding Dryfus’ argument with the dunces arranged against him. Namely the structure of the argument as an example of Dryfus’ thesis – the refusal of the AI advocates to comprehend and engage with what they claim (falsely) is not evidence – that is, the Arts.

Dryfus, making use of giant brains like Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and Ponty, is making an argument as much by style as by content. The very use of “philosophers” is itself a refutation of the Platonic ideal notwithstanding the assumption that Plato was a philosopher himself.

The distinction though is based on a false delineation that says Philosophers are not Artists and Artists are not philosophers.

Obviously Faulkner is a philosopher and just as obviously Plato was creating Art.


It is also worthwhile to anticipate criticism based on the existence of computers that “learn from their mistakes” and programs that “create” text – “journalism” and “literature.”

In the first case, there is a distinction between “learning from a mistake” and correcting a malfunction. Computers do not make mistakes in the strict and crucial sense of the word, but they do malfunction. A mistake is either a deliberate “unconscious” error designed to relieve stress or create more anxiety, or it is a mistake in effort due to a host of potential causes from fatigue to lack of ability.

A malfunction is a failure of hardware and software but not a product of consciousness and defining it as such is pure Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Secondly, the assertion that computers can create stories relies on a misunderstanding of narrative and text and of course, creativity.

No computer will ever be able to replicate the successful gibberish of Faulkner’s, The Bear – precisely because, computers don’t get hangover’s big enough to drop bull elephants, nor will they ever, like Picasso, showing a portrait to Field Marshal Stein say, when told – But it doesn’t look like me –  Don’t worry, it will.

*Leibniz, ironically, was antagonistic towards the mind as machine premise arguing that the consciousness of the mind could not be replicated by a mechanical contrivance no matter how expansive. Being a man of his time his metaphor was also of his time and he concluded that even an enormous mill could not duplicate the subtleties of the mind. What goes missing of course is that Leibniz was not defending consciousness against bloodless rationalism but protecting his turf against the encroachment of industrial hegemony which, he rightly feared, would render savants, redundant.




One comment on “Fail Better. The Illusions of Artificial Intelligence.

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