Archive for uncanny valley

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Blue

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Courtesy of Dr. Pablo de Heras Ciechomski/Visualbiotech

A computer simulation of the upper layer of a rat brain neocortical column

OK, so perhaps this should have been the first post of this category, since it is arguably the top project at the intersection of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Yes, by “Blue” I am referring to Henry Markam’s Blue Brain project, started back in 2005. What we encounter in the Blue Brain project is nothing less than a possibility of a simulated “consciousness” and other complexities of the brain (although only on the level of a rat’s at the moment, and at 1/10th of its speed), approached from the other side of computation, namely by creating individual neurons instead of the more common top-down approach in grammatical computing — the revolution of third wave cybernetics, as Katherine Hayles would have put it.

Even the strong AI skeptic John Searle in one of his lectures commented that [citation needed], even though the mind is not a software, and the brain is not a supercomputer, the computer may be constructed as such to simulate the brain. He denies by all means the grammatical approach to consciousness with his famous Chinese Room argument, but he never did deny semantic approaches, only stating that such approach is not yet possible. But with the Blue Brain — although this project leans towards cognitive science instead of AI — such an approach is, at least, on the horizon of possibility.

You can read more extensively about the Blue Brain and its progress here and here, but now let us continue on to our analysis. What do we have here with the Blue Brain is no less a science simulating the full complexity of a mind, right down (or, rather, up from) its neuron basis. How do we integrate this into our cognitive mapping? What we need to understand first and foremost is how this project requires an understanding that, 1) the mind comes from a whole, not of any one of its parts, and therefore, 2) non-localizable to any kernel whatsoever.

This, of course, is what Slavoj Žižek, in his The Parallax View, called “the unbearable lightness of being no one”. Are we not, today, with cognitive science, confronted with the fact, already acknowledged with Hume, that the subject does not exist? In today’s context, however deep we pry open the skull and dig the brain, we find nobody home, no kernel of the soul, no subject. This is the paradox of the 21st-century narrative of the subject.

What the Blue Brain project provides is no less than a common ground for us to think about silicon-based versus carbon-based life — whereas before, we see carbon-based life as evolving, as beings whose consciousness comes later, silicon-life were beings programmed through “consciousness” (grammatical understanding of the relations of objects, etc. — which is where I suspect the true “uncanny valley” lies). Artificial Life provided a change by introducing chaos and emergence into the foray, but did not necessarily look into complex nervous systems. If and when the Blue Brain project succeeds, what we will have is no less than a complete brain simulation of a species, a silicon-based brain, “comparable to the Human Genome Project,” as Markam put it on the link above.

While I remain an agnostic to the Moravecian idea of downloading minds into computers (and totally an atheist apropos the idea that the subject will remain the same), I do believe that the Blue Brain project and its completion will require us to rethink our subjectivity and humanity as a whole. Silicon-based and carbon-based life will have a fully similar grounding, and so many new spaces of cognitive science will open up, as well as new spaces of transhumanity and ubiquitous technology. All of us will have to confront not only the fact that there is nobody home, but also that home is temporary, shredding every last bit of our humanistic grounding — the unbearable lightness of being Blue.

If (and possibly when) the Brain is implemented into a body, then things will go much further. Thoughts? Feel free to comment away!

The Uncanny Valley of Non-Feminine

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Slavoj Žižek once mentioned that the true horror of confronting one’s doppelgänger (Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, etc.) is the horror of knowing that one may actually exist out there [citation needed]. This can be understood in the Humean sense, he said, that what the subject knows of himself is that he does not exist but as suppositions of the Other, an empty hole in the topology of social reality, Žižek’s “empty cogito“. Does the same not hold true for society at large when confronted with a prospect of its clones in the form of humanoid artificial intelligence subjects? The true horror of humanoid robots, Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley, resides in the realm of realizing that we may actually exist fully objectively. It is the horror of the disappearance of lack, the horror of realizing that we may not have a lack after all.

As Katherine Hayles (1999:30) noted, although for Lacan language is not a code, for computers language is perfectly a code. Computer language recognizes symbols purely through computational models with one-to-one correspondence between the signifier and the signified. Here, lack does not have a place. Thus, the cogito of the cyborg is purely a cogito of existence, not an empty one. The uncanny valley is thus the condition in which we have to confront this horror of excessive non-humanity — a robot purely in the form of a human being, machines but existing only qua social human being.

If there exists subjects to which language is a code, we are in very deep trouble. One very certain trouble we directly run into is the Lacanian sexuation: a female AI — the gynoid — is not a barred Other, for we understand her mechanisms perfectly. If “the” woman does not exist, “the” gynoid exists qua computerized cognition. (Even, one may go as far to say that cloning and/or neurobiology will eventually make it possible to produce “the” woman.) In computer codes, we no longer have cognitive functions of x which “does not cease not to write itself”, nor the x which “ceases not to write itself” — all conditions must be preprogrammed in functions of if x then y. Coding is an act of masculine writing. The cyborg is both free of castration but not a feminine as such, for it is a phallic subject and and subject to mutation — a non-feminine. The paradox of mutation is of course the fact that although it has a function of castration, it in fact has a probability for the subject to spawn a greater phallus than the one he has just lost. The uncanny valley is the horrific gap of the experience of the non-feminine.

All this is not science fiction. There has recently been a research on the engendering of the Semantic Web — which is just one among the many gender research in new media. It is notions like these that further signify how new code languages (artificial intelligence, semantic web, etc), fundamentally different from human language and cognition, will undoubtedly trouble the sexuation of contemporary society. As Foucault was already well aware, sex is subject to historical change — only this time, the change may be so much more fundamentally so.