2008-02-23

Pain is a bug

Last month's issue of Wired featured an article on two pioneers in Artificial Intelligence. They were both working to build thinking machines by first teaching the machines basic things about the world. And them both committed suicide in a similar manner just weeks apart.

The article itself was interesting, but what really caught my attention was this quote from Marvin Minsky:

In The Emotion Machine, Minsky suggests that chronic pain is a kind of "programming bug." He writes that "the cascades that we call Suffering' must have evolved from earlier schemes that helped us to limit our injuries — by providing the goal of escaping from pain. Evolution never had any sense of how a species might evolve next — so it did not anticipate how pain might disrupt our future high-level abilities. We came to evolve a design that protects our bodies but ruins our minds."


It makes sense that pain is a good thing for a creature who can't think through the potential for injury. Pain is an incentive not to do something. Humans still need pain, too, to stop us from being too stupid.

But at some point it is no longer a warning; rather it is a superfluous condition of life that prevents people form living their lives to the fullest. And it does this for no good reason. There seems to be no evolutionary benefit to chronic pain.

Modern science in many ways seems to turn evolution on its ear. Hundred or thousands of years ago, the weak or sick or injured might die out, resulting in a physically stronger gene pool. However we now have the ability to prevent them from dying out. We have become more interested in the survival of the all than in the survival of the fittest.

I don't really have a point here. I am just fascinated by the idea of chronic pain as a programming bug that needs to be fixed in version 2.0.

3 comments:

Cindy said...

Interesting concept...

CyberCelt said...

Pain is better than stupid like humans are when they are young. I thought I was bulletproof and its amazing I survived.

Pain does keep me from injuring myself further.

Jon Clarke said...

I just love machines committing suicide once they understood the world.

It makes so much sense.