Electrical Engineer, Master and PhD from the Polytechnic School of USP. Post doctorate at the Univ. Grenoble, France. Worked at IEE-USP, IPT, CTMSP (development of electric ship propulsion) and currently at CR IPEN. University professor (currently at Inst. Mauá and PECE/POLI) and consultant in the area of electrical machines. Author of the book "Manifesto for an exclusive constituent assembly of the Brazilian people".
About 20 years ago I installed a chess program on my computer. I'm not a fanatic, much less a great player, but I liked to play from time to time with friends and family. When I installed the program I hadn't played for a while, I was untrained and lost to that program like a beginner. One day, after losing about 15 times in a row to that software, I guess I was inspired and after about 10 moves - all the pieces were still on the board - I put my digital opponent in trouble. I made a move with my queen that gave me a good chance of giving the unfortunate guy a checkmate. What did he do? He cheated! He created and stuck a supplementary pawn, properly protected, in front of my queen. In the game of chess there are 8 pawns and after this blatant theft, he was left with 9 pawns on the board.
I saved the digital file of this game and sent it to the American company that owns the program that answered me with the usual lame excuses. Gosh, this had never happened before, we are sorry, we apologize for the inconvenience and we will fix this problem. I could only remove the program from my computer and throw away the installation disk.
Lately, much has been said about artificial intelligence (AI). I wrote this text to make some comments on this subject. I also take the opportunity to talk a little about natural intelligence (NI) and natural ignorance (NI). And why not also talk about artificial ignorance (AI)?
I think it is pertinent to make some contributions to the debate based on my own personal experience as a sexagenarian adult, educated in primary, junior high and high school in excellent public schools in Sorocaba, São Paulo state, Brazil, with a degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master's and PhD in this area, including also a Post-Doctorate developed in a French university for a year. I have been a teacher since 1976. I have worked as a teacher in Primary and Secondary Education. I was Professor of Electrical Engineering at a private university. Nowadays I work as a professor in post-graduation courses. I have been working for 42 years with R&D (Research and Development) of electrical machines and their applications. Since my first year at the university, in 1976, I have used computers - and computational methods - systematically as work tools. In my personal and professional life I had many opportunities to travel around Brazil and abroad, including two occasions when I lived in France (during university stays).
I have presented this summary of my life to illustrate the idea that my activities are based on systematic studies that require dedication and discipline for their achievement, besides naturally liking this area of work. In my opinion, to work with, for example, switched reluctance motors one must have a genuine interest in the subject matter, and feel comfortable working with calculations, computer simulations, laboratory tests, and reading diverse authors who specialize in the field. Furthermore, documenting and writing about personal results is also essential. This is the only way to effectively work and contribute to the State of the Art in a given subject. Not with sporadic and accidental contributions.
Anyway, in my case, to gain a reasonable knowledge of any kind of subject, it took a significant amount of time and hard work. My knowledge is the result of systematic work and dedication to the subjects of my interest. If a certain subject does not arouse my interest, at best, the knowledge I will be able to acquire will never be anything more than scratches on the surface of a lake of calm waters.
I believe in science, I base my work on science, the body of knowledge acquired by humanity and which provides the best answers that can be offered to the innumerable questions of our existence. Scientists in the field say that the human brain is the result of an evolutionary process. At birth, the human being has an organ inside his head that will need to be properly stimulated and trained so that the individual can insert himself into the world, into society. So, this is how I have spent my decades of existence. I was born, grew up and was brought up surrounded by books with all the stimuli and a taste for reading. The body of knowledge I acquired was built, brick by brick, little by little, all in due time and complemented by cultural, sporting and leisure activities, counting on the comfort of my home and the love of my family.
The present situation of children, adolescents and young people seems to me completely antagonistic to the scenarios we were exposed to until a few decades ago, in which the human brain developed its evolutionary processes. In short, a few decades ago, at times when they were not at school, children ran in the streets, shouted, played, interacted intensely in the most diverse outdoor games, falling, getting up or being picked up by their companions, hurting themselves, getting muddy and kicking rain torrents and today they are confined in their private rooms, isolated, alone, trapped in the screens of mobile phones, tablets, computers and televisions and passively watching scenes of a non-existent, unreal world.
Passivity is antagonistic to evolution. Passivity is consonant with retrogression. To the extent that children, adolescents and young people are kept in these conditions, confined to their private rooms, educational failure will certainly be guaranteed, total failure in the possibility of developing any form of natural intelligence (NI) will certainly be guaranteed, the maintenance and deepening of natural ignorance (NI) will be assured. There is no escape. I start from the premise that an individual isolated in his/her quarters will probably not find reasons to evolve, will not find the stimuli we receive when living with real people, with people with whom we have or develop certain affinities. I believe that the human being is a social being, who depends on interactions to find his space, to find the very meaning of his/her existence. To train, use, develop and evolve the brain, an individual need to adopt an active posture towards life, actively engaging in challenging situations that require intensive use of the brain. In other words, by putting oneself in front of life itself, the brain can obtain the necessary conditions for growth and development. I think that one of the phrases attributed to Albert Einstein helps us to understand this fact: "life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you have to keep pedalling".
In a recently published article, it is reported that the governments of Taiwan and China have enacted laws banning access to digital media by children under 24 months and limiting access to children and adolescents up to 18 years old. A BBC News Brazil article states that for neuroscientist Michel Desmurget, who has released a book on how digital devices are seriously affecting - and to the detriment of - the neural development of children and young people, today they are 'dazed by silly entertainment, deprived of language, unable to reflect on the world, but happy with their fate'.
In a recent, and very enlightening, interview on the subject of AI, Professor Miguel Nicolelis cited some examples of the consequences of the intensive use of digital media. He said that the Finns plan to abolish the intensive use of computers in students' educational processes because they have concluded that digital media cause deleterious effects. He also mentioned that there has been a systematic and consistent drop in the IQ test results of American school students and a significant decrease in their vocabulary. He said that older London taxi drivers who have always used maps and street guides to find their way around have certain brain functions more developed than younger drivers who use the apps available on mobile phones. He also recounted a conversation with a Swiss friend who commented that today's students no longer master the tools that we older people learned in our schools, such as calculating square roots, using slide rules and other methods.
Anyway, these are some examples that some types of effects are provoked in our brains by the intensive use of digital media.
I have seen younger people expressing concerns about their future, expressing doubts about their ability to find opportunities in a labour market increasingly occupied by machines and computer systems. I am not going to propose solutions here like those that groups of English workers in the 18th and 19th centuries adopted when they broke the machines that were replacing them in their jobs. I believe that, within our current contexts, young people who are developing their training processes should be encouraged to do what we have been doing for tens, hundreds or thousands of years, that is, studying, working and facing the various situations that life imposes on us by intensively using our brains, which, in this way, better enable us to ensure success in survival and evolution. Finally, it is the active and haughty attitude towards life that provides the development, the strengthening and the qualification of the individual for the countless challenges that he will have to face throughout his existence.
I don't think there are many possibilities to predict the future, to have any idea what the future will be like, which technologies will prevail or impose themselves on our societies. The fact is that every individual, especially those who are in the process of training, should be strongly encouraged and stimulated to develop their brains to the maximum possible extent. Dear reader, please take note of the rapidly shrinking time interval between a new scientific discovery and its availability as a marketable product. At the beginning of the 19th century, this process took around 100 years, whereas today it takes only a few years.
Of course there is scientific knowledge on the horizon that, if really dominated and made viable for large-scale use, such as nuclear fusion, superconductors and quantum computing, will promote true revolutions in the most diverse aspects of our life in society. We do not know when such knowledge, or yet others that we can’t even imagine, will be dominated and available.
I don't want to get into a scientific debate about AI, however, as far as we know, there is still no machine that is capable of asking original questions from its own cognitive and analytical experience. After all, someone has already said that you can judge a person's intelligence by the questions they ask, not the answers they offer. Does anyone know of a machine that has asked a question like the ones Einstein asked himself when developing his scientific work, and which completely changed our understanding of the universe? Or even, some question much simpler than those mentioned?
I pose these questions in this way because I have seen people, even a little frightened, assuming that the answers offered by machines with these AI technologies are the universal references of truth. Things are not exactly this way, the "intelligent" machines are just machines with great processing power using statistical methods to offer the best possible answers based on the internal "knowledge" of their databases, of their history stored in their memory systems. They are not machines that "look" to the future, they are machines that only work based on the past. They are not machines capable of offering original answers to the problems presented.
Another aspect to highlight is that "intelligent" machines function based on computational methods using algorithms that can be translated into step-by-step procedures, procedures created by the individuals who developed them. Human individuals, therefore, with all the human virtues and defects. Imagine that you are travelling on an airplane in a region with strong turbulence and something wrong and very serious happens. On whom would you best pin your hopes of survival? On an experienced pilot in command of the aircraft or on a genetic algorithm developed by a professional who is not inside the airplane?
I myself have no doubts, I would bet on the experienced pilot. Take, for example, the case of the supplementary pawn in the game of chess. The professional who developed the program, for some reason, simply forgot to put program instructions forbidding the creation of pawns or any other extra pieces to defend against the possibility of defeat. I am not making a value judgment here, I am only highlighting human fallibility, we cannot think of everything, we cannot foresee (and program) all situations, especially those that no one imagines exist and that, if they appear before us, it is necessary to have an experienced pilot in command.
Some days ago I asked a colleague, with whom I am developing some switched reluctance machine application projects, to consult these AI portals available on the internet about this specific theme with a question addressing possible market niches for this type of equipment. The answers were a collection of meaningless nonsense, far removed from reality. Of course, someone may argue that this is a very specific subject and that AI programs have not yet had enough time to evolve to present more well-founded answers, more consistent with reality. Of course they have not, because, programs evolve and learn from users, from the questions that are presented to them and this is an important point in the debate on the topic of this article.
Intensive use of available AI tools can lead to user accommodation to the extent that they consider the results presented as correct, irreproachable and suitable for their needs. This leads to a scenario where some users adopt a passive approach towards their work or studies, accepting the output from artificial intelligence systems without conducting any critical analysis. As a result, they may overlook potential errors or inaccuracies in the information provided by these systems. To the extent that a user takes this path of acceptance devoid of critical sense, his own brain will end up suffering the consequences of this accommodation, it will end up wasting away through insufficient use, to the extent that it will no longer be required to play complex and unprecedented roles.
This scenario will be reflected in the questions asked by users who are complacent and lack critical sense. Users' questions are a reflection of their working capacity, of their understanding of the world around them, and also, in the case of accommodated users, will have a lower degree of complexity, leading to a simplification of the ways of approaching problems, leading to a simplification of the questions presented, consequently leading to a simplification of the approaches of AI programs, which will be contaminated by the deterioration of the user's knowledge imagined here. Artificial intelligence (AI) programs contaminated by systems or conditions of use with such deleterious characteristics will be affected, and will tend to be programs that will develop artificial ignorance (AI) can lead to a decay, or even bankruptcy, not only of the programs but also of the human beings who use them. Artificial ignorance can be observed, for example, in the answers obtained about switched reluctance machines. In short, both AI systems and human users deteriorate and go together bankrupt.
The existing scientific theories are not the expression of absolute and unquestionable truth. The scientific theories are cosmological theories, as Professor Miguel Nicolelis said, they are something like methods that the brain develops to find plausible explanations, reasonable understandings of the world (or the universe) where it is inserted, so that it can contribute to the success in the evolution and survival of the individual. Look, for example, at the world described by Classical Mechanics until the end of the 19th century and the real revolution provoked by Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity from the beginning of the 20th century.
This means that scientific theories can explain "parts" of the absolute truth, leaving enormous gaps of knowledge for the understanding of the universal whole. The recognition of this fact brings scientists the certainty of doubts, the certainty of the enormous limitations of human knowledge. This fact must be duly taken into consideration to assess how accurately a certain aspect of life can be previously determined or understood. Beyond a certain point, there will remain the certainty of doubt, there will remain the certainty of the deficiencies contained in the attempt to understand a certain situation, which will lead to a questioning of the scientific foundations involved. This questioning ends up resulting in new questions that contribute to the evolution of the theories themselves, of the accuracy they have to predict certain types of results or even to show new paths that lead to an improvement of cosmological knowledge or even the creation of completely new theories.
The mistakes made by human beings also contain an enormous potential to contribute to the evolution of knowledge. One must be prepared to acknowledge the mistakes made and be humble enough to admit them and seek to correct whatever is necessary.
All these aspects mentioned can only be addressed by human beings, by beings who truly have an acute intelligence and a deep sense of curiosity.
To conclude this text, it is clear that it is necessary to point out and recognise the importance of machines and computer systems in human development, their conditions of comfort, work, health and even longevity. It is also clear that it is important not to use these artificial intelligence systems to control the launching of missiles with nuclear warheads, to control systems that can launch harmful chemicals into the environment and similar systems.
Without a doubt, the contributions of scientific and technological developments are extremely relevant. However, it is fundamental to highlight that human action is unique, indispensable and irreplaceable in the construction and maintenance of our world, which is a reflection of who we are as a society.
São Paulo, 15 de abril de 2023.
Note: translated from Portuguese with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).