Friday, June 30, 2017

Maybe Trump’s behavior is explained by a simple Machine Learning (A.I.) algorithm.

Burton offers an intriguing explanation for our inability to predict Donald Trump’s next move suggesting:
...that Trump doesn’t operate within conventional human cognitive constraints, but rather is a new life form, a rudimentary artificial intelligence-based learning machine. When we strip away all moral, ethical and ideological considerations from his decisions and see them strictly in the light of machine learning, his behavior makes perfect sense.
Consider how deep learning occurs in neural networks such as Google’s Deep Mind or IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson. In the beginning, each network analyzes a number of previously recorded games, and then, through trial and error, the network tests out various strategies. Connections for winning moves are enhanced; losing connections are pruned away. The network has no idea what it is doing or why one play is better than another. It isn’t saddled with any confounding principles such as what constitutes socially acceptable or unacceptable behavior or which decisions might result in negative downstream consequences.
Now up the stakes…ask a neural network to figure out the optimal strategy…for the United States presidency. In this hypothetical, let’s input and analyze all available written and spoken word — from mainstream media commentary to the most obscure one-off crank pamphlets. After running simulations of various hypotheses, the network will serve up its suggestions. It might show Trump which areas of the country are most likely to respond to personal appearances, which rallies and town hall meetings will generate the greatest photo op and TV coverage, and which publicly manifest personality traits will garner the most votes. If it determines that outrage is the only road to the presidency, it will tell Trump when and where his opinions must be scandalous and offensively polarizing.
Following the successful election, it chews on new data. When it recognizes that Obamacare won’t be easily repealed or replaced, that token intervention in Syria can’t be avoided, that NATO is a necessity and that pulling out of the Paris climate accord may create worldwide resentment, it has no qualms about changing policies and priorities. From an A.I. vantage point, the absence of a coherent agenda is entirely understandable. For example, a consistent long-term foreign policy requires a steadfastness contrary to a learning machine’s constant upgrading in response to new data.
As there are no lines of reasoning driving the network’s actions, it is not possible to reverse engineer the network to reveal the “why” of any decision. Asking why a network chose a particular action is like asking why Amazon might recommend James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard novels to someone who has just purchased “Crime and Punishment.” There is no underlying understanding of the nature of the books; the association is strictly a matter of analyzing Amazon’s click and purchase data. Without explanatory reasoning driving decision making, counterarguments become irrelevant.
Once we accept that Donald Trump represents a black-box, first-generation artificial-intelligence president driven solely by self-selected data and widely fluctuating criteria of success, we can get down to the really hard question confronting our collective future: Is there a way to affect changes in a machine devoid of the common features that bind humanity?

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