Some Normative Reflections on AI

We expect artificial intelligence (AI) to be smart. We may even expect it to be smarter than us. Technology, after all, has an aura of intelligence around it in general and AI, perhaps, even more so.

I want to examine some of the underlying normative aspects applied to AI. In particular, I want to ask: if our goal is to simulate human beings, shouldn’t we look for things such as flaws in thinking, bias, and, maybe even more controversial, psychological disabilities?

Currently in the United States, about 1 in 4 people have or will experience psychological disability. That’s quite a lot of people with quite a lot of “symptoms.” It’s still very taboo to talk about psychological disability. It’s perhaps worse to be seen as “endorsing” it.

However, a very brilliant philosopher of mind once told me that, “If you understand schizophrenia, you understand the whole of the human mind.”

Perhaps that is so. It does seem to people who try to “unlock the black box of schizophrenia” are trying to peer into the deepest parts of the human psyche. However, many attempts to open this black box using a biomedical model seem to have failed. That leaves us, then, with psychosocial accounts of psychosis, of which I am currently persuaded.

Famously, some philosophers have argued we simply cannot program for natural language. As AI becomes more and more real, it seems these arguments may be invalid. Moreover, others have argued we cannot program wisdom or emotions. These things, too, seem to be coming closer and closer to our understanding.

What I want to look at, however, is the attempt by some to create “superhumans” with AI. These “superhumans” do not necessarily need emotion, they don’t rely on bias at times, and they simply do not experience psychosis. These are considered “flaws.”

If the goal is to simulate humans, these efforts, of course, fail. If the goal is to create an uberman, they may succeed.

I want to question the assumption that we should be creating “superhumans” when we create bots. I want to argue that creating a genuine human mind artificially is not only “good enough,” it may be better than our superhuman efforts.

The human mind is still something that researchers still look at, examine and query about. It is amazing–even with its “flaws.” Consider my example. My mind has, at various times, produced visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations. We still do not know how these things precisely occur. If we did, we’d have a “cure” for so-called schizophrenia.

Current psychosocial theories suggest that people who experience psychosis are far more likely to have experienced trauma. We know, then, that trauma, such as child abuse or neglect, is highly correlated with the experience of psychosis. If trauma is the cause in some people, we still don’t know how the mind produces hallucinations. Making a bot, then, that can not only experience the harshness of trauma, but can, if all the horrific conditions are met, produce hallucinations, would be a feat in understanding not only the human mind but the bot mind.

Why program for “vulnerabilities,” you may ask? I attest that when people experience psychological disabilities, like psychosis, they are a testament to the fact that something, whatever it is, has gone horribly, horribly wrong. In other words, there has been some deep transgression that has caused the mind to produce what we consider “abnormal” activity. Users of AI–or, perhaps, fellows, friends and partners to AI–need to see these things produced in order to know that something has gone horribly wrong.

What this means is that we will have to treat AI the same way we treat humans both legally and ethically. A transgression toward a bot would be the same as a transgression toward a human.

If you are looking, then, to create an uberman that you can do with as you wish, who will be at your beck and call, who will fight for you, learn for you and do your various bidding, you may not want to consult me.

If, on the other hand, you see humans as “good enough” as they are–even with their “flaws”–and you wish to produce more of them, learn about them and replicate them in the form of hardware, I’m the person you’re after.

 

Transcending My First Memory

I’m going to share with you some things that have been kept quiet in my family for many years. It starts with my first memory. My first memory is of my dad beating my mom. It’s a sad memory and I’ve rarely told it to many people. I can still see my mom, in desperation, trying to fend off my dad.

We never talked much about abuse in my family, but it regularly occurred. It’s time to shine a light on this and move forward.

I am a survivor of traumatic neglect and a witness to domestic violence and child abuse.

I was a quiet and somber child, very observant. I rarely got in trouble. I also experienced a lot of anxiety.

At about the age of 8, I was asked by a judge who I wanted to live with–mom or dad–as my parents went through a divorce. I picked my mom. I thought this would be better and in some ways it was. However, my mom soon married another abusive man, who not only chased her around the room with an ax, but who also abused, in various ways, my two younger brothers.

As a bystander, as a child, I didn’t know what I could do. But when the man my mom married came into my room and told me to pull down my panties, I knew what to do. I pushed him off the bed. But there was little I could do to prevent the abuse happening to my mom and brothers. Occasionally, the man my mom married would want us other kids to participate in abuse and torment. I always refused.

The man my mom married died in a blizzard. I’m sure this was sad for my mom, but it was liberating for me. I attended his funeral and, when a box of Kleenex was passed to me, I looked at it like, “What do I need this for?”

However, I had to live with my dad again for a while. It was during this time I experienced neglect. I was about 12 years old. Although my dad sometimes cooked–and I remember the things he did cook–there was often very little in the fridge. I remember ketchup sandwiches. I even remember stealing money from my dad to buy food from Taco Delight.  Some of my friends’ parents noticed these things and reported them to my mom, who was doing her best to tie up loose ends with the man who had died in the blizzard.

When I was about 13, while living back with my mom, I experienced my first bout of extreme sadness. It was depression.

At 14, I became pregnant. I also moved to a different state–Florida.

Florida has a law which states that every county has to have a school for teen parents. I attended one–now called The Chiles Academy. Of course, I gained a high school diploma, but I also took parenting classes and learned about various kinds of abuse and neglect. I tried to raise my daughter differently from how I was raised. I went by the book. I never, ever wanted her to experience the things I experienced.

My time at The Chiles Academy was great. My relationship with my daughter, I think, was great. After four years–and after meeting many different politicians and leaders–I graduated with a high school diploma.

I decided to go to college. I applied for Daytona Beach Community College (now, Daytona State College). I did fairly well in all my classes–except Math. However, I decided I was ready to transfer, so I applied to Stetson University. I was accepted.

Being a non-traditional, working class, commuter student at Stetson was, well, different. I didn’t come across many other students with my background. Very few of them could related to the experiences of being a young parent.

And, all the while, I was barely treated for the abuse and neglect I experienced growing up.

However, even though I didn’t make too many friends on campus, I did find solidarity and support in the campus culture. Many Stetson faculty, staff and students are involved in the community and social justice activities. I got involved in social justice issues.

I wrote two theses: one on facial affect (for psychology) and one on colonialism (for philosophy).

Not long after I graduated undergrad, my dad got sick with cancer. I had to travel back to Texas to deal with his death.

Soon, I applied for graduate school at the University of North Florida. While there, I did very, very well in academics, teaching and research.

Still I had not gotten help for my abuse.

I had learned to be distant from my feelings. I didn’t take time to process things and transcend them. However, I spoke out about injustice toward anyone else whenever I could. This was empowerment for me. It was as if I was making up for all the times I couldn’t do anything for my brothers and mom. I sometimes wonder if other people who are passionate about social justice are survivors like me.

While in graduate school, I had my first experience of psychosis. Of course, the current routine is: drug them up and hospitalize them.

I wasn’t seen as a survivor of horrific things who had accomplished so much. I was seen as a “schizophrenic.”

New research sheds light on the traumatic experiences people have which lead to psychosis. Instead of seeing these as “ill people” with an “incurable brain disease,” we should look at them as potential survivors of domestic torment and adversity. After all, if you don’t think I experienced adversity, you don’t know the statistics on teen moms. Merely graduating high school is a very real accomplishment for people with my background, let alone going on to college and grad school.

If you glance around my portfolio, you’ll find I have indeed accomplished a lot. My most recent accomplishment is what I’m doing now: transcending my negative childhood experiences.

 

 

On Stigma

Stigma–or, rather, discrimination–regarding mental illness is very common. Most people, alas, are unaware of the stereotypes and biases they hold in their head regarding mental illness.

I have been an advocate against stigma and discrimination for several years. I’ve seen far too many instances of bias and discrimination. I couldn’t help but be an advocate.

I have volunteered with organizations and have watched others grow. The organization I am currently watching–and it’s one to look out for–is Students With Schizophrenia. Founded by Cecilia McGough (Penn), Students With Schizophrenia aims to assist and help college students diagnosed with schizophrenia. Look for Students With Schizophrenia at a campus near you.

On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Call Me C.S. Lewis: An Unlikely Convert

Long time readers may wonder about my sudden shift to writing about Christianity. I’ve converted. You may wonder why. So, I’ll tell you.

About six months ago, I had a psychotic break. It was severe and there are possibly some readers here who witnessed parts of it.

One evening during my psychosis, which lasts usually a week or two, my mind felt like it was going to shatter. It’s hard to explain what it’s like for your mind to shatter, but it’s horrible and scary. You lose your whole identity. I seriously felt like I was going to be in long-term inpatient care. That’s also terrifying.

Normally, I would have gone to the hospital. My first urge was to do just that. I would be, possibly, injected with something like Haldol, and, hopefully, stabilized. It usually takes going to the hospital in order to re-gain any sort of coherence when one’s mind shatters.

However, no one was really around to get me to the hospital. All our vehicles were gone. I couldn’t very well take myself and I didn’t want to call 911 because I thought I wouldn’t be mentally present by the time they showed up.

All of this went though my head very quickly.

I felt my only choice was to pray. They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

I got into my bed and prayed. I said, “God, please help me keep my mind together.”

I was willing to do my part, if and however I could. But I needed God’s help.

As I prayed, my mind was shattering. I was losing my identity as I prayed. The only thing I knew about myself was that I am a woman. So, I prayed to God, “I know I am a woman.” That’s as much help as I could offer God.

I slowly fell asleep.

In the morning, my mind was healed. There was no psychosis whatsoever. No shattered mind.

I don’t currently know how long this healing will last. I don’t know if it’s forever or not. I still take my medications and go to counseling. But, that night, I believe I experienced a miracle. So, I’ve converted.

Breaking from Reality

Most people give credence to biomedical research over biopsychosocial research, thinking, I suppose that biomedical research shows us about reality. I don’t want to argue that it doesn’t. What I do want to do is argue for the social sciences as giving us information about the nature of reality.

For example, we know that Holocaust survivors are at-risk for developing schizophrenia. This gives us reason to think that exposure to trauma, psychological hardship, and so forth, can trigger psychotic symptoms. What we can’t do is replicate those conditions, and randomly assign people to Holocaust-like conditions.

What we can do is look at other instances where trauma may have caused a break from reality. For example, we can look to the Ghost Dance.

I invite you to watch this video, and consider whether the restrictions of liberty, trauma, and hardship, etc., caused the break from reality which was the Ghost Dance.