‘Can Fools Create Wise Computers?’ (2014)

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I like to re-run this piece now and then, because so many people seem to think computers will lead them to the promised land or something.  They seem to forget that these are inanimate objects–things created by human hands.

Can Fools Create Wise Computers?

Does it stand to reason nincompoops and sinners can create perfection? Paradise? That we don’t need God… because we’ve got Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

Yeahbut, yeahbut! They’ve got chess computers that are way better than chess masters! *Sigh* It’s only a simulation, dude. The super chess computers “know” only what human chess experts have programmed them to know. But in terms of consciousness, they don’t knoiw anything at all.

5 comments on “‘Can Fools Create Wise Computers?’ (2014)

  1. When it comes to processing data, computers are incredibly powerful. An inexpensive computer can search a text file and locate a given string of text much more effectively than any human, but that doesn’t make it smart. A hammer can drive a nail much more effectively than a rock, and a rock can drive a nail much more effectively than a hand, but that doesn’t make them superior to humans. Tools, all tools, are the products of intelligence, but they are just tools and have no intelligence of their own.

    Examine where the intelligence actually lies when a computer is used to search for a string of text in a file. Someone had to design the computer’s processor, and that takes human intelligence. Someone had to integrate that processor into a circuit board, someone had to write the operating system of the computer and someone had to install the operating system on the computer. So, a lot of human know-how had to happen before we even get to the point that the computer is ready to do our bidding.

    Just for the heck of it, I copied the text of the 2014 post into a text file and then I searched for a string within that file. So, the text I copied was the product of human intelligence; specifically Lee’s writing of an article in 2014. Copying it was simple, but only because the people that design computers made them capable of copying text easily with one simple command. Then I created a blank file called lee-doc. txt and pasted that text into it. of course, it took the intelligence of someone to write the simple editing program I used to create lee-doc.txt, so the computer, once again was only doing the bidding of the people that wrote the software.

    Once the file was created, I saved it, which means that I took advantage of the programming ability of others to do that work, and so far, the computer has done nothing except obey the writers of the programs. Finally, I entered a command into the computer and it was the computer’s turn to shine. I entered:
    “more lee-doc.txt | grep plush” (without the quotation marks) and two programs ran; more, which allows one to look at the contents of a file, one page at a time and grep, which took the output of the “more” program and searched for the word I told it to search for, in this case, the word “plush”. A fraction of a second later, the computer displayed the sentence: “Well, heck, there already are plush toys, frying pans, and lawn chairs that are smarter than some people we know.” which is exactly what it was supposed to do.

    Now, the is amazing, and even if it had been a huge document, many pages long, the computer I was using (a Raspberry Pi4 which cost about $100) would still have located the word “plush” much more rapidly than any human could … but it still did nothing truly intelligent. The feat of locating that text involved the intelligence of the people that designed the computer (which is truly a modern marvel) and the intelligence of the people that wrote the software and my minor contribution which amounts to nothing more than memorizing a few commands that the software designers wrote, but the computer only did one thing that a human couldn’t do; it was able to process that text faster, because our flesh and blood brain needs time to recover in between processing information and the computer doesn’t. That’s it! The only thing the computer did that I, or anyone else could not do, was to “read” the text of that file more quickly, and when it came to the word “plush”, it used the logic of the grep program to display that line on the screen. Like every computer on earth, it’s a glorified abacus, and no more capable than the people that designed it and the people that wrote the software.

    It’s a tool, and has no more common sense than a hammer. Had I asked it to search for the word “pulsh”, instead of “plush”, it would have returned no results whatsoever, because it has no sense, whatsoever. A moderately literate human that reads English will know that “John”, “Jon” and “Jawn” all sound the same when pronounced, but to a computer, those three spellings of the same name are completely different words and are related only by the fact that they share the same first letter and the same last letter. It’s an old adage, but computers are no more smart than the programs they run.

    Tools, all tools, are an extension of the creature using them. If a chimpanzee uses a rock to open a coconut, it is simply using that rock as an extension of its capabilities, but the rock is useless, unless it actually contacts the coconut rapidly enough to fracture the shell. A hammer is no more useful than the carpenter that swings it and a computer is no more useful than the person using it. Because of the work I do, I occasionally have to search for text within a configuration file for a piece of equipment, so the ability to scan a file and locate a certain word comes in quite handy. That’s the only reason I even know how to perform a simple search, like the one I demonstrated. But unless a person knows what to look for, and why they are looking for it, even a powerful tool is worthless. No matter how we look at it, the computer is merely an extension of human ability, no different from a hammer being an extension of my arm when I pound in a nail or a rock being an extension of a chimpanzee’s arm, when it is opening a coconut.

    Computers don’t scare me. Something so dense that it doesn’t realize know that “John”, “Jon” and “Jawn” can all sound the same, is not smart and can’t hurt me, of its own volition. However, humans of malevolent intent can use computers to extend their power over their fellow man, and that is truly frightening.

    1. whatt abote themb Rocks “that” krak cocanutts jist alll on “thare” ohwn??

      Seriously, though–well said. People really do need to understand this.

    2. If you dig all the way to the bottom of this, it becomes the same issue as whether or not we have a Creator. If it rained on the rocks and the rocks came to life, then computers could take over, but the essential thing is this; no creation can ever become greater than its source. If a human throws a hammer, in anger, that hammer can do a lot of damage, but it’s not attacking anyone, or anything, of its own volition, and … the hammer can only fly as far as the strength of the person throwing it will allow.

      Yaweh, I have been told, means “I Am” or “I Exist”. Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites the God that exists was behind all that was happening. Pharaoh found out the hard way that Yaweh does exist. The power of everything which has been created, can never exceed that power of the Creator. Satan cannot overpower Yaweh, even if every angel took his side and rebelled.

      I work with some powerful computers. One simple command in a computer in the US, can have an effect upon people in Asia, Australia or the Middle East, so every command has to be thought out carefully. But the power of that computer is still in human hands. I can still pull the plug and power down a computer, no matter how powerful it is.

      Not only are computers less powerful than the humans that created them, but this point is essential, in all matters. We cannot leverage mankind to a position of being superior to God and that is the ENTIRE issue. When God used the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad to illustrate this to Adam, the greatest truth in the Universe was being expressed. All that has been created is wonderful, and Adam was given dominion over it, but even all of that, is still less than the God that made all things.

      Ironically, and accidentally, right next to one of my computers, is a fairly large hatchet. The computer is running in an out of the way place and just happens to be next to where I laid a hatchet. OK, the computer is “smart” and the hatchet is “dumb”, but if the hatchet were to sharply contact the computer, it would be untouched, while the computer would be rendered useless. So, which is the better tool? The hatchet stinks at finding a string of text, and the computer stinks at splitting wood. Tools are only as powerful as the person that uses them, and it will always be thus.

    3. I’ve just gotten 3 robo-calls in 3 minutes. Couldn’t do that without computers, either.

      You do such a good job of explaining these matters. I hope we all appreciate it.

  2. I certainly appreciate Unknowable’s explanations always. I couldn’t agree more with his remarks of wisdom. I have always thought along these same lines, and have discussed them with people, but he explains it all so much better than I can.

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