Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Rationality and Reality


The last post outlined data’s three essential qualities: veracity, accuracy, and precision. Humans are good at the first two; computers excel at the third. However, we cannot judge accuracy without first determining veracity, i.e., how the data corresponds to the real world. How can we be sure? Most people would say Science.

True, but most people don’t fully understand what is meant by Science. Ancient Greeks depended on their powers of reasoning. The Middle Ages saw the rise of Empiricism, questioning established truths. Thus began the Scientific Revolution and the evolution of Scientific Method.

Most people (and some scientists) don’t always employ the Scientific Method. They use their feelings and intuition; they go with their gut. On occasion, they make the effort and put on their reasoning hats. Unfortunately, they don’t understand reason any more than they understand Scientific Method.

In Star Trek episode 38, “Metamorphosis,” Spock says, “. . . humans are essentially irrational.” At times we are, but maybe quasi-rational would be a better label. We act as though we are rational, ignoring (or denying) any flaws. Like the confident drunk, our perceptions are distorted. We are blind to the limitations of our rationality.

Even without mental impairment, how are we to know if our thoughts correspond to reality? The schizophrenic doesn’t know. The rest of us like to think we do, but we can’t be sure. That’s why we use Scientific Method. Human reason, by itself, is not enough. Neither is the logic of the computer.

Humans are not intelligent creatures independently. They must interact with other humans. To become human, children must be raised by humans. Children raised by wolves have the same brains but if not found in time by humans, they never become fully human.

We directly apprehend some of reality; for the rest we need other people. This is the Achilles Heel of Artificial Intelligence. AI, no matter how “superior,” cannot function on its own. It too needs people to help it know reality. In isolation, it is no smarter than the drunk who gets behind the wheel.

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