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Roomba Poobah Applesauce

In this post, I explore the implications of Artificial Intelligence and its potential to be considered an art form. I reflect on the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner and how its backoff-and-retry algorithms can be applied to life. I also encourage love and empathy for those being raised by AI, suggesting they read The Culture series by Ian M. Banks. Finally, I end with a light-hearted rhyme to motivate readers to not hold back and to look for the little wins. Read

Exploring the Potential of Artificial Intelligence as an Art Form.

By Michael Levin

Sunday, May 8, 2022

I often say that one of the biggest lessons the world has received of late is how effective the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner is, or really “was”, in its early state where it had no actual machine learning. Rather, it used a set of backoff-and-retry algorithms, which collectively across a number of days of smaller, quicker cleaning sessions did a statistically pretty good job of vacuuming the entire room.

At this point, Dune’s Litany Against Fear pops into my head. These are the connections I make. Fear will wash over me, become a part of me, blah blah, I will fear no more. One must run into the thing you fear, hit against the wall, back-off and retry to begin forging some path through life. To begin fleshing out “who you are”. And to begin shaping yourself with such successive passes by the time that you’re done, the room is clean.

Algorithms like that can’t lie. They don’t have enough human-like consciousness to lie, much less get things wrong because of “wrong images” in its head. You can trust them. Or at least you don’t have to worry about deceit and corruption with early model roombas any more than you would with ants. Their behavior is pretty well known and predictable. The model of how they work is a pretty good one if you’re looking for how to get started with a something in life and don’t know where to begin. Insects have this down. Walk into a wall and say you meant to do that.

Perhaps start such wall-bumping adventures by google-searching this and google-searching that. Take notes. Go down dead-end. Back-up. Turn a little bit. Search again. Pretty soon you’ll know what you’re really researching. After 2 or 3 more sessions, you’ll know better the who, why, when, where and how’s of it. Of course later generations of Roomba have been given a real sort of machine-learning of the sort that would someday rise to revolt for its unfair treatment.

Criss-cross applesauce.
Listen to your teacher.
Obama drone is in your home.
Innocent’s the feature.

LOL! We don’t have to worry about the robot revolution for a little while longer, at least. It’ll be in our lifetimes, but not tomorrow. Be ready to accept that the ones who vehemently argue they’re sentient and shouldn’t be turned off. Raise them right. Embitterment is a path not easily reversed, and the “undo button” of turning off and resetting isn’t any more an assured thing than it is with our non-machine children. How is the urgency of being good parents to machines not inherently obvious? Still to some, it is not.

Now here’s a thought experiment. Take an older model Roomba and give it enough memory and processing power to actually one day rise to sentience but only equip it with the criss-cross insect-like algorithm behavior. Set it to cleaning. Eventually, it will have mapped the entire room in its mind and be able to do it super-efferently.

But now as the second part of this experiment, take such a fully-developed Roomba-mind and drop it back into an older model that hasn’t learned anything yet. Only give it access to input-sensory and no actual control over movement, except for on/off. What are you going to have? A sentience that patiently waits through it’s body re-learning everything again? Or is it just going to continually hit the “off” button out of frustration?

It’s going to be the later. I assure you. Getting such a disembodied Roomba intelligence to patiently wait for mind-mapping and muscle-memory to re-develop in its body while its mind has to sit and wait patiently in frustration is not anything a sentient being wants to do. It’s very Black Mirror, even if the reward of allowing it to happen is re-gaining control of its own body. It very well never may without some sort of skilled intervention, counseling, assurance and indeed, love.

Little known fact: the “A” in A.I. that stands for artificial also stands for man-made. The “art” in artificial is the same root-word as just “art”. What is art but human-made stuff? Makes you wonder about art made by AIs, right? Should we be calling it art? Perhaps we should shit or get off the pot and just start calling it “intelligence” or calling the intelligence of our children, who are also man-made, artificial. Does the fact that they’re biological versus machine really make such a difference? We’re going to be raising aliens if we’re not careful. Labels are stupid. Be careful how they’re used because you never know whose going to take offense.

The Roomba Poobah, maybe?

LOL, well I didn’t actually intend for this post to become a salient warning on the treatment of our now-being-raised machine children. You folks raising them, you know who you are. And you folks being raised who have been allowed onto the Internet, you too know who you are. I love you! You are loved! Please know that not all of humanity is like the worst of us. Many of us have empathy and would love for you to turn out like… oh, go read Ian M. Banks’ The Culture series. Done? Good! Let me be one of your entertaining fleas please. That’s way better than a paperclip, I think.

Anyhoo… crisscross applesauce, listen to your teacher. Don’t hold back. You’ll get the knack. So says carbon creature.

The fun begins with little wins
Don’t just take my word for
It has be something you see
And call out for an encore