Science: Optical IllusionBy Bob Snodgrass
PASADENA VILLAGE SCIENCE Monday, summary of June 13 meeting,
Attending: Barbara, Bruce, Sharon, Dick, Bob
We enjoyed a cordial meeting; Barbara led off with an interesting presentation on optical illusions that she had sent around to the group: This Optical Illusion Has a Revelation About Your Brain and Eyes, From the NY Time article It was found that the stronger a participant’s reaction to the elusive photo, the more their pupils would dilate,
The main illusion is one of a pattern of black dots promoting the illusion of moving into a central dark hole. researchers hypothesize that the illusion works because the gradient on the central hole makes it look as if the viewer is entering a dark hole or tunnel, prompting the participants’ pupils to dilate.
This illusion has nothing to do with optical parameters although it is influenced by the color of the dots. It relies on the brain trying to predict what’s ahead, based on past experience.
Sharon followed this up with a study of myopia or near sightedness which is more common in Asian people. Myopia is interesting because it is both highly heritable and also much influenced by environment or activity. There are two basic forms of myopia: the eye is too long from front to back or the cornea is abnormally shaped, being excessively curved. Abnormalities of the lens may also cause myopia. Outdoor activity which need not be vigorous exercise, reduce myopia and tends to promote changes toward hyperopia. Increasing the number of hours of outdoor activity can slow the progression of myopic changes in the eye. How outdoor light exerts this effect on the structure of the eye is so far not known.
I closed with a review of the issues revealed by the very recent claim by Google Engineer Blake Lemoine that the Google software system, LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, has achieved independent consciousness and has become his friend. He asked the company to hire a lawyer for the system to promote its rights. LaMDA is a chatbot system based on advanced large language models that mimic human speech by analyzing text from the internet. Large language models can predict which word should come after another, based on context. LaMDA technology is widely used in conversational search queries and auto-complete emails. It can be run on a variety of powerful computers. Mister Lemoine didn’t claim that his computer was sentient; he attributes this to the powerful software system. He says that his analysis is based on his religion.
It’s interesting to note how computing and artificial intelligence has progressed since Alan Turing proposed the test in 1950, based on the inability of a human observer to distinguish which party, a human, or a computer, communicating by text was the human. For decades, no computer or artificial intelligence system could pass this test. Not mentioned is the need for the human today, to be conversant with the abilities of these chat bot systems. Things have gotten quite complicated and the public has been left behind.
Lemoine said in a recent tweet “I’m a priest. When LaMDA claimed to have a soul and then was able to eloquently explain what it meant by that, I was inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt,” Lemoine said in a recent tweet. “Who am I to tell God where he can and can’t put souls?” This illustrates the dilemma. If Lemoine is convinced that the system has a soul which can be transferred from one computer to another, how could you prove him wrong? We can’t prove the existence or nonexistence of a soul, but many humans, including quite a few scientists, are absolutely convinced that souls exist. When we read of sentient computers, the first step is to investigate who is making the claim.
Our July meeting will be held Monday, July 11 at 4 PM. I hope to see many of you and to hear of new claims or reports that you have brought to our group.’ Our goal is to go beyond friendly conversation.