Deep learning, God, and Zen emptiness

Discovering how deep learning can work smoothly while performing tasks that even humans consider difficult is terrifying. Undoubtedly, it’s stunning and extraordinary, but at the same time, it’s almost a terrible discovery. I must confess that I’ve never liked reductionism, and I continue thinking about an “ego” behind the scenes, someone or something, that cannot be a pure neural production.

Indeed, I don’t have any element to say that my brain is the subject of my thoughts, and maybe I’m wrong when thinking that a complex task (like image recognition or text decoding) is something that doesn’t belong to a mechanical world. Many biological mysteries keep charming everyone, even if we know almost everything about their inner dynamics. Still, there’s a difference, a singularity point when switching our topics to the human mind.

I love artificial intelligence, machine learning, and, of course, deep learning (which is something possible thanks to affordable high-performance computing – GPU vs. CPU, a small revolution inside a global one), and I keep on studying every day, trying new algorithms, training new models, reading papers and dreaming about hundreds of possibilities that can be realized with a laptop, a good GPU and dozens of free frameworks ready to meet any requirement.

But what about the one sitting in front of the screen, reading these words, trying to imagine ending this post, thinking of his lunch, afternoon, friends, relatives, parents, pets, and so on? Do 100 billion neurons model such a complex illusion? Or maybe they’re only a biological support to something different? Just like the electrical current upon an antenna is not the original electromagnetic wave (maybe this example is not perfect at all)?

Is transhumanism right? I don’t think so. Science and technology cannot explain why we can conceive infinite natural numbers while our lives are finite. So, is religion right? The idea of an anthropomorphic god is almost useless, so I don’t like ideas based on the assumption that someone like a “father,” a “chief,” or simply an almighty creature can do whatever he likes with me. First, because I can experience (if somebody really can) him/her or it only through my imagination, it’s not hard to say that such a god is a human product with all those features we currently miss.

Maybe it’s better to address a different kind of religion (for example, Zen Buddhism), which keeps an ethical structure (something necessary to move from individuals to larger groups), together with a subtle form of awareness. A door was kept open, not to find something to fill the gap, but simply because even the gap has an inner nature to look at while keeping silent.

Have I answered any essential questions? I haven’t. I try it every day, but I always fail. But who’s failing? A bad-trained neural network or a subject who never vanishes like an unused synaptic weight?
Sincerely, I prefer the second option, but I’m open to considering any theory that can explain why a bunch of neurons keep looking at themselves in a mirror without any particular reason but to give birth to something radically different from themselves: me.

Photo credit: Clever Cogs! Via photopin.

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