Friday, May 27, 2016

Autonomous Car Collides with Bus: an illusion of abstractions?

The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx
re-edited 3/12/16

An Illusion is not Necessarily a Perceptual Error. It is usually just a rather run-of-the-mill experience. We encounter illusions frequently. To our personal benefit, our own bodies often produce illusions, e.g. 3D vision or directional hearing, or even the pains we experience from surprising external or internal systemic pressures, or, even, upon hearing bad news. The pain in our bare foot is not the tack we just stepped on; nor, the pleasure we feel, the chocolate we just ate.

We humans rely on illusions. We use them for better or worse to lead our lives. Seafarers have long guided themselves across oceans using star constellations. But we know now that there’s no Big Dipper, or Belt of Orion, to be found “out there.” Constellations of stars are illusions due to slow cosmic change and to our position as viewers. Human racial differences, too, have been a commonly encountered practically exploitable illusion due to slow change and social position. (See Philosophy & Racial Discourse.)
Wayfarers and pilots, too, may venture into or over deserts and forests, cross-referencing their positions along the way by triangulating imaginary lines-of-sight between “fixed” terrain features. (Even such “fixtures” as expected mirages of an oasis or other bodies of water can work.)

We humans are not unique in producing illusions in pursuit of the “goals” patterned in our genes. Our use of duck calls, fishing lures or pheromone hunting baits illustrates this. Animal species, too, may pursue prey or fend off predators by, feigning death, or, ferocity, or venomousness.

Illusion is not in the perception, in the appearance, but in what we take that appearance to be. We learn at a young age “Appearances can be deceiving.” We certainly hope so, when we aggressively yell to frighten off an approaching animal; or, when we go to meet someone on a first date.

How do we learn what is illusory and what not? By using as many of our senses as we can, in as many variations of position as we can manage, in order to see what happens. It is no accident that most illusionists do their presentations to audiences fixed in their seats. Or that séances are held in the dark. Or that proselytizers of every stripe discourage broad learning in their followers. Narrow perspectives blur the distinction between illusions and realities.

Not only do we vary the manner in which we confront what we suspect may be illusory, but we do it noting the context of presentation. Is it “normal”? Is the lighting different from daylight? Would art museums display their traditional exhibits under intense red light? (Try sorting blue, black and brown socks under incandescent light. Why is fluorescent light better for the task?)

Is image, tone, feel, odor, or taste sufficiently persistent? How far away (intense) does the apparition, tone, etc. seem to be? Smallness and haziness are indicators of distance. If we can estimate its height (or loudness, etc.), then, more is closer.

Strained or strange body positions on the part of the observer are likely to indicate something amiss. Cross a middle finger under a forefinger, close you eyes and touch the tip of you nose with both fingers simultaneously. You will feel two noses!

We tend to judge the reality of the perception that confronts us based on the degree of “normal” corroboration among our different sense modalities in the context of our estimation of the “normality” of the perceptual situation.

Is the image, tone, feel, odor, or taste sufficiently persistent? Can we compare it with tracings from memory, or with our hypothetical constructions about confrontations to come? Both past and future are processings left as mental traces, not the evanescent qualia that phenomenologists say present themselves to us only in the passing moment. (See Similarity: not a given; but, a composition.).

Motion pictures, or their derivatives, provide us an interesting example of illusion. They are composed of stills, or frames, the projections of which are clearly illusions, which appear less illusory when perceived quickly and sequentially. Their most important consequence is the illusion of cause and effect.

Cause & Effect. What conditions “connect” perceptual events into perceived chains of cause and effect? This feature seems to be “wired into” us; (or, as Immanuel Kant proposed much earlier, cause-effect is a essential structural component of Mind - Verstand) Cause-Effect is often an illusion we must take pains to recognize as such; e.g. Post Hoc, Propter Hoc. (See Cause = Perceptions + Assumptions )

How do we correct a suspected misconception as the reality of a perception? By probing any hunch – called in exalted educational circles, “testing our hypothesis” – to see if it holds up under questioning. Usually fatigue, boredom and feelings of risk set in long before any “personal hypothesis” is thoroughly criticized. (See Good Lies, Wise Evasions )

Reality, Knowledge? Just Presumptions? Some long while ago, at a cocktail party, in my late youth and early marriage, a chemistry professor, having had a bit too much chemical and having heard from my in-laws that I was still in my middle-twenties (!) stumbling around after a profession, confided in me: “Consider Chemistry! By the year 2000 we will be all efficiently taking various pills instead of eating, having to waste our time and effort chewing, so-called-healthy crunchies for hors d’oeuvres.

Granted, time passes, new things are discovered, the old dies away. Today’s knowledge becomes tomorrow’s superstition; today’s realities, tomorrow’s illusions. This seems inevitable in a culture which practices an empirically-based knowledge acquisition model.

An Equation-like Metaphor. But this is no argument for returning to a culture of unquestionable, alledgedly prophesy-based dogmatism. Rather, think of “reality, R,” as a limit condition, a congeries, at least, of truths, T. The disconfirmation of hypotheses, as a procedure (a function), D, which moves us away from previous illusions and toward “reality, ” as the number of disconfirmations, D, increases, likely to infinity (since we and the universe around us evolve). Knowledge (i.e. Compiled Truths, {T}, which will in the limit comprise Reality, is the residue of practical, experimentally exercised caution. See Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution..

A metaphorical equation: (lim K/(D → ∞)) = {T} ⊆ {R}

Read this: In the limit, our knowledge, K, as the disconfirmation of tentative hypotheses increases to infinity, approaches - via {T} - Reality (R),

a. T is the set of all truths, {T}, i.e. hypotheses that have survived disconfirmation tests;

b. {T} is reasonably expected by less-than-omniscient beings such as us, to be always less than (R).
I concede this to be a metaphor because I am not even sure it makes much sense taken literally. (See Measuring Educational Outcomes: truth, tricks and hype.) Certainly the total number of English (or other language) words (and the power sets of all their combinations and permutations) is less than the number of events discriminable by us in the universe as we know it, or even as we might come to know it in the future, given superior instrumentation and language to expand and communicate our experience.

Contingently Dysfunctional Characteristics: explaining AI failure. I do not have enough particulars to deal with the specific recent collision event. But I do have a broader concern that may apply to it. It is that there is a problem with the traditional notion of abstraction used by (only some, I hope) AI researchers.

The Platonic conception of abstraction introduced by Socrates in the Meno – the traditional use of necessary and sufficient (N&S) conditions -- common to many theoretic activities to this day, appears in full bloom in chapter two, “A Model of the Neo-Cortex,” of Ray Kurzweil’s book, How to Create a Mind.

(Compare Alfred Korzybski's "Structural Differential," shown above - from Science & Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1941) - that he used to explain his conception of abstraction.)

This model of abstraction, call it the N&S model, is, what I will call a “ context pro-functional” accumulator. It sets up a checkpoint for the selection of candidates in a given class of situation, call it [S1], to moving up the ladder of abstraction. It allows items to climb that meet certain functional requirements for an AI construction goal. It may even cull out an [S1]-dys-functional elements, if they are of concern.

But such dysfunctional elements may be overlooked or disregarded, as being, for example of low probability of happening, or of low enough cost in the long run to allow to pass through. See Concept as Abstraction. A hindrance in developing intelligence?

But the [S1]-appropriate abstraction may also be a sort of “sludge-accumulator,” in that it allows to pass through any items with [Sn?1]-dysfunctional characteristics so long as they are [S1]-functional. A situation [S31] may arise in which the response set available contains [S31]-dysfunctional items that are nonetheless [S1]-functional.

So it is that an autonomous car might accelerate to pass a bus that has lain quiescent for twelve seconds, [S31], but may accelerate on eight because the bus driver left his running lights off, creating in the car an "illusion" of [S1], signaling a permanent stop.

Using the common N&S concept of abstraction is very much like an admissions procedure to an organization based on education, ethnicity, profession and income that welcomes anyone who meets these four requirements but ignores, say, their legal status, e.g. felon or not, their level of indebtedness, their history of violent public behavior, and the condition of their health.

How to Avoid Such Difficulties Basically it comes down to three things:

a. investigating broad ranges of functional situations;

b. looking at not only those characteristics that are pro-functional, but considering whether there are potentially dysfunctional characteristics that may manifest themselves in not impossibly remote circumstances;

c. building in different kinds of input systems to enable corroboration among them.
Scanners alone, like visitors' eyes at a seance, will not easily help their user recognize illusions.

For examples and to pursue these issues, see Physical Objects as Non-Individuated Entities. (A universe of constructs) )

--- EGR