Sunday, November 12, 2023

Christof Koch talk at #SfN2023

 I attended the talk by Christof Koch at #SfN2023. A great take on the state of the art on the neural correlates of consciousness. Discussions on the no report paradigm and the need to dissociate between NCC per se and processes temporarily prior or posterior to it, e.g., attention modulation, motor response etc. were extremely interesting. 

It was heartening to see Dr. Koch intellectually still committed to Integrated Information Theory (IIT). I was there at the #ASSC26 in New York earlier this year when the rivalry between global workspace theory (GWT) and IIT was declared to be over in favor of the latter. In view of the turmoil that followed regarding the validity of IIT, it was audacious on the part of Dr. Koch to stick to his principles, although this author does not necessarily agree with the views put forward by proponents of IIT. 

The different ways that correlations between consciousness and intelligence appear in theories of consciousness is particularly interesting. I stood up and asked the first audience question to Dr. Koch, as regards his view on the biological constraints on the relationship between intelligence and consciousness, which, as was mentioned in his own presentation, seems to be roughly linear in actual biological systems. Dr. Koch seemed to imply that there could in general indeed be dissociations between them. IIT would assign low consciousness values to AI systems such as AlphaGo and ChatGPT, although they do exhibit sparks of intelligence. 

Another audience question also addressed the possible biological constraints between intelligence and consciousness. As Dr. Koch suggested in the questions and answers session, there could be dissociations in artificial systems, but in biological systems intelligence would be associated with consciousness in typical states of mind due to evolutionary constraints. I thank Dr. Koch and the organizers for this interesting session.

Friday, September 22, 2023

A great divide in the world today.

In the contemporary world, the greatest divide would not be between the liberals and conservatives. It would be between people who believe in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and those who don't. Alternatively, there would be a deep chasm between believers and non-believers of the idea that the world is a simulation run on a huge computer (presumably designed by some superintelligence, natural or artificial).

When someone says that he or she believes in the simulation hypothesis, the most appropriate and fun follow-up question would be:

At what time exactly in your life did you realize that this world, including you, is a simulation? Did you notice a bug in the program, or was there a noticeable hole in the visual field?

Neither has happened to me so far, and I don't believe in the simulation hypothesis.

I thought about this rather humorous idea after a close friend of mind, Kaoru Takeuchi, who got his Ph.D in string cosmology from McGill, said that he believed in both the many worlds interpretation and simulation hypothesis. This is indeed a great divide. Rather unsettling, actually. I needed some psychological defense mechanism, and I came up with the above thoughts.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Once you become adequately connected to the central ideas of consciousness, you would become a sincerely ignorant person.

 One of the most important things in consciousness studies would be to realize that you don't understand consciousness. 

It is too easy to fall back on a particular idea, theory, and set of data to (falsely) believe that one has understood the nature of consciousness. Too many people have gone that way and basically never came back, perhaps tragically for themselves. 

I am not necessarily arguing that the cognitive closure argument of Colin McGinn (which, by the way, is a beautifully presented exposition) is correct. I am just making an observation that one of the blessings of learning the facts about the neural correlates of consciousness and related ideas in the philosophy of mind is that one becomes aware of the tremendous difficulty involved in understanding consciousness. 

Indeed, the more you learn about the intricacies of the mind-brain problem, the less confident you become as regards the power of any specific theory (be it the integrated information theory, global workspace theory, quantum theories of mind, etc.) to account for the origin of consciousness. 

In consciousness studies, an intellectual hubris of understanding would come from an insufficient understanding of the field. Once you become adequately connected to the central ideas of consciousness, you would become a sincerely ignorant person. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The enigma of free will evidently equals that of time.

 Conventional arguments about free will seems to be missing one fundamental aspect, which is the essentially non-existent nature of the future. 

Albert Einstein admitted that his theory of relativity cannot handle the enigma of the now. 

A particular point in time proceeds from the future to the present, and on to the past, in a way described in the historic McTaggart paper.

 In this temporal procession, the future does not seem to exist in any sense, until it becomes the now. 

The past is also non-existent, for sure, even allowing for the possibility of Bertrand Russell's five minutes hypothesis, which suggest that the universe came into existence five minutes ago, with all the relevant memories of the past. 

Henri Bergson's concept of pure memory would complicate this argument, which would solidify the reality of the past if taken seriously, but the five minutes hypothesis is not a logical impossibility on the surface within the conventional worldview. 

So much for the past. The future, on the other hand, is absolutely non-existent, or so it seems from the nature of the stream of consciousness. Any models of free will ignoring this remarkable asymmetry of time would be at best good for all practical purposes, but ultimately hollow. 

The enigma of free will evidently equals that of time. 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

If an AGI system is truly general, then it should have nothing to do with intelligence

There is a fundamental problem in the concept of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) or Artificial Superintelligence (ASI). 

It is possible to conceive of a system with great computational capabilities. However, at a particular time under a specific context, the hypothetical AGI system can execute only one computation. Other possible computations exist only in the counterfactual.

 When it comes to designing the "personality" of an AGI, in line with, for example, Eliezer Yudkowsky's Friendly AI concept, the system would implement only one of the possible configurations in the vast personality space at one time. 

Thus, AGI can never be general, given the physical constraints in space and time.

 Indeed, Spinoza's argument about the infinity of God in his magnum opus Ethica beautifully addresses this issue. In this historic treatise, Spinoza states that God, the absolute infinite, has nothing to do with intelligence or personality, which by nature necessitates states of finite configurations. 

If an AGI system is truly general, then it should have nothing to do with intelligence. The same for ASI. As it stands, an AGI or ASI is likely to exist only as a sharply tuned specialist machine, rather than the conventionally conceptualized system of ubiquitous and omnipotent nature. 

We perhaps need to sort things out before we set about this supposed race to AGI, or even as we run on the competition track.  

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Let flowers bloom out of the Johnny & Associates desert.

(This is an updated and longer text based on an earlier tweet)

From the cultural point of view, the disservice inflicted by Johnny & Associates has been that the stars from the agency were fakes, avoiding serious auditions, propelled by favoritism of the deceased founder and endorsed by complacent and uncritical Japanese media. If the talent agency endorsed a particular boy group, Japanese media casted them at the main stage, without asking seriously what the nature and quality of the performances might be. This applied, sadly, to the national broadcaster NHK, too.

Japanese entertainment deteriorated in quality as a result, including the film industry in which many from J&A were cast on the premises of dubious stardom, a far cry from the excellence of Ozu and Kurosawa. Needless to say, great films are still created, by people like Hirokazu Koreeda. If you go to a movie theater in Tokyo, and have the misfortune of being exposed to the tasteless trailers of latest Japanese films, many of them with the faces from J & A as the front roles, you would be shuddering in your soul, at the tragic demise of the once mighty and proud Japanese cinema. 

It is now time to say good bye to the kingdom of false stars.  Let flowers of individuality and serious talents bloom from the cultural desert left by Johnny & Associates, after the rain of regret falls on the ground, if tv producers indeed regret what they have been doing. I have no expectations for people at J & A. I wish they would change the name of the agency, and even better, perhaps dissolve the organization all together, as a service to the entertainment industry here. 

Japan deserves a much better entertainment industry than one dominated by the likes of Johnny & Associates. We've had quite enough for a long time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

An astronomer of existence. A review of Hunchback by Sao Ichikawa.

 How is intelligence nurtured?

 Most of the time, we are protected by too many things, to reach the truth of this world barehanded. Above all, those who are typical, or in the cultural majority, tend to be placed socially in such a comfortable position so that good intentions often turn into ignorance, common sense resonates with oppression, without the subjects, tragically for the soul perhaps, becoming aware of and acknowledging such terrible situations.

Hunchback by Sao Ichikawa has just been awarded the 169th Akutagawa Prize, and this masterpiece from a newcomer into literature shakes the world as we know it, and moves the readers closer to the kind of intelligence that humans need and deserve. However, there will still be people who would pass by without touching this philosopher's stone. Even if they get close to it, it might be only human nature to simply fly by and let their psychological guard mechanisms blur their sights again.

The novel gives us a sense of the author's command of language, a unique way of looking at the world from self-defined angles of approach to various representations, which the author has presumably been building up in the days of a prolonged period of handicapped and challenged life. Hunchback conveys a kind of fascination with the attitudes of the human spirit, which goes beyond the plot that has been circulating in the Japanese media so that many literary types would be probably familiar with it by now.


It is a personal novel, but that does not mean that it is a reading that relies only on subjectivity, topicality or eye-catching literary gadgets. The author's mind behind it all works as a black hole that would attract readers of today and the future. The author indeed seems to be a black hole of considerable mass, like the one at the centre of this galaxy. As the imploding novel spins, it emits radio waves of words far and beyond.

As discussed in some of the selection reviews published in Bungeishunju, it is understandable to argue that the biblical citation and the fiction within fiction inserted respectively in the middle and the end of the novel,  could have been better omitted. Nevertheless, as several of the judges of Akutagawa Prize wrote, there is something that makes us feel that the author would have seen some inevitability in placing these literary oddballs precisely in those places, even if it might appear disconcerting from a typical literary perspective.

Ignorance out of good intentions and oppression emanating from common sense are naturally inherent not only in the issue concerning physical handicap, but also in the institution of literature itself. The objections the author raises against the culture of the book lovers ignorant of the need for universal access for all spectrum of people could, if taken seriously enough, extend to the main assumptions of today's privileged advocates of literature. In Botchan, Soseki Natsume had readers off their guard, by appearing to narrate the dark sides of the local town of Matsuyama, while he was actually dissecting the limits of the supposedly modernizing Japan of the Meiji era. The same could be happening in Hunchback on a devastating scale.

Reading a great novel sometimes brings outlandish associations out of the blue. After finishing Hunchback, I suddenly remembered, as if in an episode of Marigold Linton's precious fragments, an episode with my awe-inspiring genius friend W in senior high school. W later became the top scorer in the nation wide Common College Entrance examination, an almost trivial feat considering his analytic and aesthetic mind combining the faculties shown by protagonists Narcissus and Goldmund in Herman Hesse's eponymous novel. On a winter school trip to Kyoto and Nara in the second year of school, I was somewhat embarrassed to be sitting around a hot pot with my classmates, including W. Although I kept the appearance of coo, I was secretly perplexed by the fact that I was suddenly in a intimate setting, wondering when to take the boiled ingredients into my own bowl and how to use the chopsticks, surrounded by my classmates, with whom I was usually discussing high-minded matters such as the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

At that time, my friend W said, casually and with a smile on his face. "I think real intelligence is tested on such occasions like eating hot pot together." I was pierced, and then comfortably struck and settled, by W's remarks.

Sao Ichikawa's ways of going about situations of accidental intimacy and social antagonism in Hunchback shows real intellect of that kind, sitting together for a hot pot. The truth of the world lies not in the abstract far away, but in the near, close to our skin. Hunchback bends the space-time of our everyday life experiences to show us just a little bit of the existence's rainbow hidden behind all humanity.  Sao Ichikawa is an astronomer of existence.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

AI doomerism might actually be a form of end-of-history illusion.

On the web, I have come across some arguments concerning whether the discussions on AI risks are culturally conditioned. Specifically, there were some suggestions that the so-called AI doomers, people who are concerned that the end of humanity is near because of AI, tend to come from a certain corner of the religious spectrum. While there might be some high profile cases which superficially suggest such a correlation, I don't think it is accurate or indeed appropriate to link opinions about the existential risk to specific positions in belief.

To be fair, lines of arguments such as AI doomerism, simulation hypothesis, and mind uploading (not suggesting here that these ideas are  necessarily mutually resonant) might be influenced by culture in the broad sense. No matter what their cultural backgrounds might be, once they are formulated rigorously, everything would eventually boil down to logic and empirical evidence. I am of the opinion that the pros and cons of AI doomerism can be and should be discussed on pure logic, separate from religious connotations, if any at all.

Having written this, I do feel that there are certain cognitive biases that make people inclined towards AI doomerism. It might actually be a form of end-of-history illusion. While we must take necessary precautions to adversary effects of AI, the possibilities for humanity are far from over. Life would with all certainty keep going, with or without AI, or, for that matter, with or without humans as we know it. We tend to be too narrowly focused. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Barbie was a creative answer to the contradiction of the right vs. the desirable.

I went to see Barbie in the very first show in central Tokyo. It was a wickedly sophisticated treatment of many cultural assumptions about gender, ethnicity, body, glamour, personal charm and individuality. The production design was superb, making the unreal appear more real than reality. Perhaps that's the child's view, seeing the Platonic truth. You could almost feel the biology of the plastic. This might have been an aesthetic revolution, even.

Although it was a morning show, the theater was full. This would have been a relief for Barbie lovers. 

In the runup to the opening of Barbie, there have been some hiccups, especially related to the Barbenheimer memes. Japan is very sensitive about nuclear bombs, for obvious reasons. Having gone through that, perhaps now it is a time to come back to the common sense of the power of pink.

I admire the way Greta Gerwig went about the business of doing everything just right from politically correct viewpoints. The script was clever, on the verge of approaching cosmic absurdities. In entertainment, nowadays, it is important to do the right thing. On the other hand, I always thought that human desires were deep and perhaps more powerful than just doing and saying the right thing. Barbie was in a way a creative answer to the enigma of the contradiction of the right vs. the desirable. That was kind of revolutionary, too, at least for me.

By the way, my name is Ken. After seeing the movie, I finally came to understand why I have always been and ever will be no.2.

Ken Mogi bio, photos, and contact.

Ken Mogi is a neuroscientist, writer, and broadcaster based in Tokyo. Ken Mogi is a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, and a visiting and project professor at the University of Tokyo. He has a B.A. in Physics and Law, and Ph.D in Physics, from the University of Tokyo. He has done postdoctoral research in University of Cambridge, U.K. He has published more than 200 books in Japan covering popular science, essay, criticism, self-help, and novels. Ken Mogi published several bestsellers in Japan (with close to million copies sold). He was the first Japanese to give a talk at the TED main stage, in 2012 (Long Beach). 

Ken Mogis book on IKIGAI, published in 31 countries and in 29 languages, has become a global bestseller. Ken Mogi's second book, The Way of Nagomi came out in the U.K. in 2022 and in the U.S. in 2023. Ken Mogi has a life-long interest in understanding the origin of consciousness, with the focus on qualia and free will.




Ken Mogi profile Photos (c) Itaru Hirama 2021


You can download large size files from the link below.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

We don't have to cite Dostoevsky to call out the incredible shallowness of game theoretic thinking.

Born and raised in Japan, I am naturally aware of the destruction that nuclear weapons bring about, as exemplified by the tragedies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I would definitely like to see them abolished. I can see at the same time how difficult the process would be. Once the powers that be have such capabilities of mass destruction, it would be difficult to persuade them to abandon the weapons. British comedian Diane Morgan cried bitterly as the character Philomena Cunk when she learned that humanity has not abolished nuclear weapons.

Quite MAD, isn't it? We are so mad that we need comedy to face the reality.

We are not alone, and perhaps there have been experiments on the difficulty of abolishing nuclear weapons on the cosmic scale. When considering the Fermi Paradox, I always thought that the apparent absence of intelligent extraterrestrial life out there is due to the short life expectancy of any advanced civilizations. Once they reach a stage where they could produce nuclear weapons, they would implode, annihilating themselves through unavoidable contingencies. Perhaps earthlings would follow suit soon enough if we are not careful. 

Abolition of nuclear weapons would need a serious examination of the game theoretic logic behind Mutually Assured Destruction. It is literally MAD as the acronym suggests. Game theory is great in its own way, but it does not scale very much when it comes to ethics.

For me, game theory always appeared to be rather superficial, in its premises that agents would behave according to some evaluation functions. It is useful, but it is obviously not the whole story.

We don't have to cite Dostoevsky to call out the incredible shallowness of game theoretic thinking, but it is difficult still to make humans behave any differently in a world increasingly dominated by AI think, both theoretically and emotionally. I am a great fan of the present AI developments. I am avidly interested in AI alignment problems. At the same time, I can see how this whole process has trapped us in a rather nasty rabbit hole, and we probably need to start thinking rather seriously about ways out, or even ways further in so that we can get somewhere else through some wormholes of concepts. 

Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird (2017)

I came across a great shooting scene from Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird (2017). In it Ms Gerwig was laughing, exhibiting her genuine good nature, instructing the actors to run and hug and kiss, while sitting comfortably behind the monitor.

Lady Bird was a true eye-opener for me, where I became aware of Ms. Gerwig's incredible talent, and the superb film making gene of the company A24. I have been a fan of Ms. Gerwig and A24 ever since.

What was great about Lady Bird was the poignant way human psychology was treated. The reason why the protagonist kept calling her Lady Bird was something which would resonate with everyone who has been a teenager once. And the final accepting of her real name, and her identity, was moving and was a very fine piece of film making.

I would never forget the artistic satisfaction that welled up in my heart at that particular moment, when the Lady Bird became a true Lady.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Ohtani's kabuto helmet performance is a celebration of the inner child alive in each one of us.

When Shohei Ohtani hits a home run, his team mates would put a kabuto helmet. While this is a symbol of the samurai warrior, many Japanese associate the headgear with happy childhood memories.

It has been customary for boys to get a set of samurai symbolism, including the kabuto helmet, when they are infants, from parents and grandparents. These would be typically displayed in special festivities in May. The kabuto helmet would represent wishes for an audacious and successful life.

With the growth of more gender neutral awareness, perhaps these customs are losing momentum. Still, for many Japanese, the kabuto helmets are symbols of happy and blessed childhood, rather than the literal ethos of the samurai clan, which disappeared from the Japanese society with modernization more than 150 years ago.

Every time Shohei Ohtani wears the kabuto helmet, those versed in the tradition of Japan would remember a childhood surrounded by well-wishers. In that sense, Ohtani's kabuto helmet performance is a celebration of the inner child alive in each one of us. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The film M3GAN was superb.

On the flight back from Vancouver to Tokyo after the TED conference, I watched the film M3GAN. Although I knew the hype about the film, I was not sure whether I had the guts to see it (I am weak about horrors and thrillers). However, after watching the film Nope (which is kind of a horror film, but I tend to accept sci fi), I felt that I was in a condition to watch M3GAN.

The film was superb. The script was clever and addressed some critical issues of AI alignment. M3GAN stands for Model 3 Generative Android, and the risks coming from uncontrollable generative artificial intelligence was well depicted in the film. 

This was days before ChatGPT surprised the world, and the producers of the film could be lauded for the future.

The mention of "attachment theory" in the script is symbolic of the general high standard of scientific and technological aptness. I recommend the film to anyone interested in the future of the alignment of AI with humans.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

I am attending #TED2023 in Vancouver, Canada.

I am attending #TED2023 in Vancouver, Canada.

Despite competitions from likes of Lex Fridman podcast, TED still shines as one of the world's foremost market for exchanging ideas. Attending Session 1 I think I came to realize some reasons why.

It is the wholistic humane approach that characterizes TED. It is great to have geek talks about LLM and AGI, but at the end of the day, in order to alight AI with human society we need to value things outside the tech world. At TED we have a broad spectrum of people concerned with bringing the best in humanity. The better angels in us are flying in the arena.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

It would be important to consider evolution of artificial intelligence systems in terms of group dynamics

For now, Artificial Intelligence systems seem to be developed as stand-alone entities, while historically,  evolution of biological species happened in the ecosystem. Instances such as ChatGPT are conceived as proving and being expected to prove excellence on its own. Dependence on the corpus makes them embedded in the ecosystem, though.

It would be important to consider evolution of artificial intelligence systems in terms of group dynamics, as happened in the case of biological systems, as opposed to the arms race metaphor typically employed in discussions about AI today, e.g. in the perceived confrontation between Elon Musk and Sam Altman, for example.

Related video. Towards a society of artificial intelligence.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Many things in Japan would perhaps go the way of Hachiko.

In Japan, for now, wherever you go, there are a lot of people. On the Shinkansen train, on the streets, at tourist attractions, everyone everywhere all at once.

With the covid-19 pandemic, the tourism came to a standstill, as in many countries. Now tourists are back with a vengeance. A noticeable change is the presence of people from abroad compared to domestic tourists.

Perhaps this is a vision of the future for Japan. In comparison to other global destinations such as London, New York, and Paris, Tokyo feels like and is still a place where the effects of globalism is seen only in mild signs, unless, of course, you go to the Shibuya Crossing. The Hachiko statue nearby is now always busy with tourists from abroad queueing up to have a chance to take a photo beside the famous Akita dog.

When I was a college student I could not imagine a day when the world would come to meet and greet Hachiko. It was a domestic presence then. Now many things in Japan would perhaps go the way of Hachiko. What a time to live in, apart from the rapid development of artificial intelligence. 

Friday, April 07, 2023

High intelligence is a double-edged sword

The conventional wisdom would be that if you have high intellect you would be more adaptive to a wide range of environments. Homo Sapiens has evolved to possess a highly developed intelligence, and it surely correlates with the fact that humans have come to dominate in a wide range of environments, from the tropics to the north and south poles on the earth, and to International Space Station and further beyond, perhaps even to Mars.

However, although intelligence has surely helped humans to be more robustly adaptive in a wide range of environments, it has also made the human existence less robust and stable. The possibility of human extinction through total nuclear war is just one example.

It could be argued therefore that high intelligence is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can help make the system more robust. On the other there would be increased vulnerabilities, easily scaling out of the comfort zone.

It is an interesting question whether incorporating artificial emotion or consciousness in a system would make it more or less robust. Memorably, Eliezer Yudkowsky remarked in a recent Lex Fridman podcast that endowing an AI with emotion would be terrible. Artificial consciousness might make a AI more stable, by the incorporation of metacognitive processes, realizing the veto function, which is indispensable in human ethics.

The jury is still out.

In a recent episode of Ken Mogi's Street Brain Radio I discussed these pressing issues in some detail.

Related video:

High intelligence, artificial or natural, becomes unstable. Can consciousness help that? 

Thursday, April 06, 2023

The arms race happen between people, not AI systems.

For some time now people have been discussing existential risks for humanity with the development of artificial intelligence. Although there would be genuine vulnerabilities due to the general disruption that the intelligence-related technologies would cause, especially by those involved in military operations, the tendency to depict AI, AGI in particular, in the light of possible overtaking of human existence is not only misleading but also potentially damaging.

Typically, when people discuss doomsday scenarios, they are projecting their own psychology onto the machine. It is not AI that would try to overtake the world. People have desires and ambitions about exerting control over others, and artificial intelligence systems are regarded as tools to realize their obsessions.

The arms race happen between people, not AI systems. The alpha male projection of aggression on the coming AGI is not only misplaced but also damaging to the neutrality of the technology.  

Related video.

The existential risk of Artificial Intelligence only comes from human nature and imagination

Saving Japan

In the last few years I have written two books on Japan. One on ikigai and another one on nagomi. With these attempts, I have hopefully presented the best in the tradition of the land of the rising sun.

As I have written in the small print sections of these books, I had no intention of claiming that Japan is the best, or indeed, unique among nations on the globe. Each culture has its own merits and strengths, juxtaposed with shortcomings and weaknesses. Japan is far from perfect, especially when it comes to gender equality, for example.

In a way, with the ikigai and nagomi books I have presented a vision of what Japan could be, could have been, and would be, in addition to what it actually is. I believe realities can be seen from a new and hope-giving perspective, when you have the perception and good will to achieve that.

I really admired the film Saving Mr. Banks. It told the true story behind Mary Poppins. As a lover of the excellent musical film, I believe in the alchemy of transformation from the actual Mr. Banks to the fictional character, depicting what he could have been, inspiring people. 

In the same spirit, I wanted to do something in the spirit of Saving Japan, while remaining true to the essential nature of the nation. Sometimes, you see the real self better from a distance.