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Leland LeCuyer
Of two minds, in contradiction with myself...
Of two minds, in contradiction with myself...

Leland LeCuyer's posts

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Action at a Distance
But can a Canadian Sniper snag +David Amerland's book from two miles, ey?

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Hubert Dreyfus
Unlike +Daniel Estrada I never met Dreyfus in person. My interest in his writings centered around his books on Heidegger and Foucault rather than his musings about AI. Although none of us can know the future, I hold the suspicion that his philosophical works will outlast his more technological works as ontology continues to increase in importance at making explicit what heretofore has remained concealed by being implicit.
// Bert Dreyfus passed a few days ago. I don't see any announcements online, but his close friends and colleagues are mourning on FB.

I started working on AI as a grad student in the final days on the AI Winter, circa 2005. The explosion of machine learning and the Yudkowsky/Bostrom style AGI arguments still lay in the future ( Most AI work was being done in niche technical corners of computer and cognitive science, where there was very little contact with mainstream philosophy. For the beginning grad, it seemed like the philosophical discussion had been exhausted in the 70's and 80's, at the height of Winter, in the arguments from Searle and Dreyfus.

Searle's arguments are terrifically bad, and grounded in nothing more than Searle's own stubborn intuitions. Unfortunately these arguments remain very popular, despite having almost no practical implications. Fortunately, Searle's own career seems to be over now, due to numerous sexual scandals. Hopefully he takes his bad arguments with him.

Dreyfus' arguments were far more subtle, and were deeply grounded in the traditions of existential philosophy and phenomenology. "What computers (still) can't do" made enough cogent arguments to have a palpable impact on the technical development of computer science and robotics. Dreyfus' arguments deserve some credit for the shift of focus to "embodied cognition" that has characterized both research and theory in the decades since. Dreyfus paved the way for roboticists like Rodney Brooks and Hans Morevec.

Dreyfus made his share of bad arguments too. In the first edition to "On the Internet" (published 2001), Dreyfus used his embodiment argument to conclude that searching the internet would be practically impossible. The argument is obviously mistaken, and the second edition of the book (published 2008) removes it entirely. I don't think this mistake is accidental; I think it speaks directly to the limitations of Dreyfus-style arguments that reigned during the AI Winter. I also don't think it's coincidental that these retractions become necessary at the dawning of our new golden age of AI. Diving deep into Dreyfus' views is worth a longer discussion for a different time.

The point is that these discussions are still worth having today. Dreyfus' contributions to the AI literature are important and profound. He's been a steadfast critic of AI, and he's made the AI community better for it. We'd all do well to pay attention.

I had lunch with Dreyfus once as a very young grad student, at a conference at Notre Dame. The conference was on philosophical anthropology (= not AI), and I was at a table with other philosophical legends (Charles Taylor, etc). But I wanted to talk with Dreyfus about whether or not Deep Blue could play chess. And he entertained me, and we had a very pleasant conversation. From what I remember, he offered mostly Socratic questions to help me articulate my thoughts; I don't remember taking away any profound insight from the conversation. But I did get the clear impression that he was a kind, patient, and good-natured person and teacher. I've never heard anyone say otherwise.

Some links:

image via Taylor Carmen

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Value Creation, Not Value Transfer
This article from the HBR examines the cost to society and to business of the practice of maximizing shareholder value. Fairly long read, but worth the time.

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Two Models Of Capitalism
I just ran into this article on Forbes and immediately thought of this community. +Julian Birkinshaw examines why the proposed merger of Kraft Heinz with Unilever was withdrawn. He sees it as not only a clash between widely different and possibly irreconcilable business cultures, but a between two distinct models of business. Kraft Heinz is a relentless cost-cutting, profit-maximizing machine aiming to enrich its shareholders; Unilever “exemplifies the view of a corporation as a force for good in society.”

Birkinshaw became all mushy at the end, arguing we need “a balanced diet” of capitalism — namely that there’s a need for both ruthless efficiency and social benefit. However, contrary to what Birkinshaw appears to be advocating here, these two visions of business cannot exist separately without inflicting terrible harm upon society and the earth itself. A company can be ruthlessly efficient at manufacturing disaster. Indeed the standard model of shareholder sovereignty has proven to be a recipe for precisely that, as evidenced not only by the usual suspects — tobacco and oil companies — but even in businesses that one would expect to provide socially beneficial services — food companies and hospitals. Too often the impulse to generate profit leads to decisions which undermine the very mission that the firm purportedly was established to fulfill.

I am more inclined to agree with Peter Drucker who claimed business enterprises “do not exist for their own sake, but to fulfill a specific social purpose and to satisfy a specific need of a society, a community, or individuals.” History supports Drucker’s observation, because long before shareholder supremacy became codified into law, all corporate charters required a specific goal and the corporation would dissolve upon fulfillment of that goal. Open-ended corporate charters, not to mention corporate “personhood” were not established until the railroad.

But I’m preaching to the converted. What about the other side of Birkinshaw's thesis?

I can lay claim to the title of "World’s Worst Businessman,” thus I attest from experience that engaging to do good in the world also demands discipline — even (or especially) fiscal discipline. Being broke harbors a strange tendency to limit the good that one can do. It goes without saying that a modicum of ruthlessness is required even in the pursuit of good.

So permit me to channel someone who is widely regarded as a better businessman than me — Steve Jobs — and add “one last thing”: Even the most bottom-line oriented capitalist enterprise like Kraft succeeds at doing some good. At the very least it makes money for its investors. The problem isn't whether or not it does some good; instead the problem is who benefits and the corollary who gets harmed. The problem with the bottom line is that it has been too narrowly defined.

Similarly, corporations like Unilever that strive to benefit society may be accused of defining their mission too broadly. How exactly does a firm benefit society? All of society? Like all things, there must be tradeoffs: benefits and harms. A good business seeks to benefit others in addition to themselves. It also seeks to mitigate whatever harm it induces. These are not easy things to do or to measure. P&L balance sheets do not exist to hold an entity to account for the impact it has upon the world.

In the end a business or an individual may only do so much. Like my grandmother taught, try to leave the world a little better than before.

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Naked Censorship
Facebook dictates what may be seen — or shown. Again.

cc +David Amerland

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Get Thee To Adelaide
Want to Kick Ass, +David Amerland?

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Big and Small: Zoom, Zoom

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Two Views of Reality
Which is more fundamental: (1) Matter and energy, or (2) Consciousness?

These pictures were snapped from Roger Penrose's book, The Large, the Small and the Human Mind.
2 Photos - View album

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Importance always means one thing in relation to another.
There is no such thing as importance alone.

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Human Males Now Obsolete
What's the wurst that could happen?

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