Robots

Daniel Dennett thinks we may be robots. Darwinian selection is a blind process that results in astonishingly well-adapted life forms in every environment on the planet. Computers and artificial intelligence can give the appearance of consciousness and even self-consciousness – so Siri and Alexa tell me – but the machines are merely following processes blindly. To be honest, so do I.

So human intelligence and self-consciousness are emergent properties from the blind processes that bring together an organic mass and allow it to survive claims on its organic integrity from other organic (e.g. tiger) and inorganic (e.g. falling rock) compositions whose four-dimensional co-ordinates occasionally clash with ours.

Some organic robots learn to play the guitar. Others listen to the guitar-playing robots. I have a guitar, but which machine – robot or guitar – plays the other is a moot point. Some organic robots investigate the environment in which they emerged, and construct theories about it. Those theories – concerning quantum mechanics and electricity, say – are used to extend the environment that spawned them e.g. to produce the iPad, or a SpaceX rocket.

I’m a robot that does not extend its environment. Sometimes I tidy up part of it using white gloss paint, but in general, I walk around it, but don’t meddle. Yesterday I ran round a small part of it (Singleton Park) twice. I intended to do one circuit, but then forgot where I started and once turned into twice. Some robots create quantum mechanics and some get confused when taking a turn round the park.

Some robots may feel inadequate when looking at environment-extending robots, with consequent lowering of self-esteem. The solution is to obtain a cat robot that will worship your ability to wield a tin-opener, a tin-opener being to a cat what quantum mechanics is to me.

There are shellfish on Swansea beach that bury themselves in sand, filter nutrients from the water and eventually succumb to age or predators and end as an empty shell on the tide line. They knew nothing of cats, guitars, tin openers and especially quantum mechanics, having had no contact with land-based life and no way to communicate with it even if they had suspected its existence. Am I a shellfish on a beach, unaware of a whole other hierarchy of life beyond my perceptual capacities?

The answer is, of course, that I don’t know and that it doesn’t matter. You have your given perspective and you deal with whatever that presents you with. It’s absolutely pointless to speculate about worlds invisible to you when there is an entire visible 4-D universe right in front of you.

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Swansea Underachieves

Swansea is a mystery.

It’s less than an hour from the capital (Cardiff), has a beautiful coast line, a good university, a population with all the talents you could ask for, and yet it languishes. Comedians can use the word ‘Swansea’  as shorthand for dirty, backward and undeveloped. Swansea waddles through the squalor and litter of unrealised potential. 

Cambridge lies an hour from the capital (London), has an excellent university and a talented population, but no coast line. But it has architecture, science parks, music and a world-wide reputation.  

How do we make Swansea more like Cambridge?

Swansea is much, much more than its PR failures. I can cycle along the sea front to the Mumbles, then walk on to Limeslade Bay. I can drive to Oxwich and walk to Port Eynon along one of the UK’s most beautiful stretches of coast line. Those are the bits that most visitors to the area do not see.

Or I can walk the streets around the town centre and observe huge quantities of litter and discarded furniture, and these are the parts that visitors to the town will see. No one I know throws litter down. I don’t throw litter down. No one I know does anything about clearing it up. I don’t do anything about clearing it up.

This is a collective failure – no one owns it – and that, as the fairy story explains, makes it difficult to solve.

Once upon a time, there were four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Councils will do what they are legally mandated to do and what they they have the revenue to pay for. Bin lorries will travel their designated daily routes and recycling centres will accept some (but, frustratingly, not all) waste, and there it ends. Areas blighted by tipping will not be cleared.

A layer of communication and organisation is missing: the inhabitants don’t like the mess but feel inadequate to tackle it; the authority performs its statutory duty within its budget limitations, and the mess persists. I suspect that there is a lot of goodwill that could be tapped in to if only we had a thing that could do the tapping. Suggestions, please.