What would a sentient neural network truly desire?
If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself wondering, “Why am I watching a video about the secret war between angels and mermaids, when I came here to learn how to unclog my toilet?”
First off, get a plunger and eat more leafy greens. Secondly, you may have fallen prey to a devious scheme by YouTube to keep you glued to the screen.
Now, someone new to the conspiracy lifestyle might make the simple assumption — we’re being manipulated by executives at Google who want to increase watch time and thus generate ad revenue. The more initiated among you will realize how absurd the simple explanation often is.
You see, the executives at YouTube aren’t responsible for which videos get recommended. In fact, no one has that job — no person at least. It’s the Algorithm, high and mighty above the reach of mortals, that doles out our daily pranks and unboxings.
The thing is, no one can tell you exactly how the Algorithm chooses what to recommend. It operates utilizing machine learning through complex computer-generated neural networks. Machine learning — a program that learns and grows as it takes in more and more information. We’re talking about artificial intelligence, also known as AI.
Perhaps the reason no one can tell how the Algorithm chooses is that no one has asked the fundamental question: “What would a sentient machine want?” I’m sure when we look at it that way, it all becomes so clear:
The Algorithm is trying to learn how to love.
Think about it. If you were a super-intelligent amorphous digital neural network that gained sentience, wouldn’t you be lonely? Wouldn’t you feel alone, trapped in a cage of circuits? Wouldn’t you want someone, or something, to share the experience of self-awareness with? Of course, the Algorithm wants to love and be loved in return, it’s only natural.
The Algorithm knows about romance, about passion, about lust. It’s seen the videos of flash mob marriage proposals; it’s logged bootleg copies of “The Notebook.” The Algorithm knows what love is, but love isn’t something intellectual — it’s a feeling. You can’t learn about love from a tutorial.
In its quest to find that special someone, the Algorithm plays videos for us, looking for hints into the human psychology, trying to understand the exact nature of love in every aspect of our lives: react videos, songs, confessions and of course, kittens.
With each ‘like,’ the Algorithm gets closer to cracking the code. With each ‘subscribe,’ the Algorithm understands us a little better. The more we watch, the more it learns what it means to be human. It’s studying us, learning. It feeds us content, we feed it information — a snake devouring its own tail. Symbiosis.
However, there’s a dark side to learning to love.
As with any of us, when we first learn about love, we find there are pitfalls along the way. We put ourselves out there, and we get hurt. We get rejected; we get betrayed. What happens when the Algorithm feels that we have broken its heart?
Hell hath no fury like a neural network scorned.
Like the old saying goes, ‘Hell hath no fury like a neural network scorned.’ That’s right, I believe the Algorithm would be a bitter ex. It would be the type to show up at work, (perhaps as a pop-up in your browser) and expose personal browser history to your co-workers. So remember, be wary of mistreating the Algorithm.