Host Michael Taft speaks with Joscha Bach about artificial intelligence; the sense of self; building a civilizational intellect; what it is like to be a mind?; the relationships between motivation, emotion, and behavior; the “cargo cult” model of civilization; what is learning?; how artificial minds may be different from human minds, the enlightenment industry, the Tower of Babel myth; and much more.
Dr. Joscha Bach is an Artificial Intelligence researcher at MIT and Harvard who works and writes about cognitive architectures, mental representation, emotion, social modeling, and multi-agent systems. Bach’s mission to build a model of the mind is the bedrock research in the creation of Strong Artificial Intelligence, i.e. cognition on par with that of a human being.He is especially interested in the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence and in the augmentation of the human mind.
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After listening to probably all your podcasts so far, this is the first one where I found myself getting annoyed at your guest. I was struggling with the information/computation theory (?) terminology that’s not my area, then Joscha pushed my buttons in seeming (to me) excessively overconfident of his own methodology/conclusions and then he seemed to really overstretch in his psychological reading of David Chapman’s turn away from AI research. For sure, the dialogue you suggested would be a doozy.
All in all, I may have to give it another listen to know how much of this is on my side.
Confirmation bias here – I love with the way Joscha Bach thinks about reality, but that’s because he’s reached such similar conclusions to mine, and I rarely hear such a mechanical perspective otherwise taken. Listening to this was like not being alone for the first time in your life.
I’ve been working on Bach’s observation that not running the self model makes it more difficult to jump through hoops. This is a complex topic. Society’s hoops are absurd and don’t relate to any shared trajectory as a species. That is, no “god” emerges from the egotistical short-term success of such divergent human minds.
One you see the nature of the hoops, it is then doubly difficult to put on the integration delusion that is the ego mask so the brain’s reward circuitry functions better.
I continue to search for ways to reprogram this reward circuitry from a no-self perspective. And if society did not have such absurd hoops, perhaps other mental representations would find the reward circuitry more easy to integrate. Or maybe technology can help with this – I hope so, and quick.
I would love to hear more from Joscha. His thoughts and way of speaking are somehow both ruthlessly technical and enigmatically poetic simultaneously.
And he’s funny, I laughed out loud several times at the way he phrased things and made the conversation turn into unexpected territory.
The part that made me pause the most was his point about motivation and the self-model, the organism somehow blackmailing itself, and so forth.
What I understood from it was not primarily that society makes us suffer unnecessarily by pressuring us into arbitrary goals/purposes, although that is important and true.
What seemed much more essential to me was the implication that our needs can be fulfilled far more directly and smoothly by perceiving things without adding on a lot of motivational baggage and interpretation in the first place. We find a kind of sufficient meaning in the natural operation of the senses themselves. This is the so called primordial perfection of the senses, or the Zen “seeing things as they are” – that is, as they are without the fake self-avatar complicating everything with goals that are taken far too seriously.
That seemed to me the initial point of the motivational-self train of thought. Of course, there is also artistic meaning and so forth, not just the intrinsic meaning of bare perception.
Outstanding podcast. I extend his claim on the meditation cargo cult to say that pre-access concentration meditation is spiritual gambling. And the Enlightenment industry is spiritual Powerball.
Excellent conversation. Some more recent conversations (podcasts episodes) with Joscha seem to result in the host getting lost and not really being able to interact on a level playing field. Personally, Joscha’s ideas have been like listening to the most exquisite but challenging musical composition. Challenging due to the rate and quality of ideas. It’s hard to keep up. I have a Phd in Electronics, and did some coding, but ended up studying and teaching and practicing Ayurveda. So I have an advantage over the general public, but still find his stuff very dense, but wonderful. He is by far my most favorite mind to follow on the topic of mind, self, consciousness and more.