Computer Engineering and Propaganda

With the rise of the modern digital computer, engineers and other cyber experts have tried to add intelligence to machines. Some of the experts even talk of machine consciousness, almost daring to suggest that machines can be programmed to think.

True, computers and other machines do things that appear miraculous. My email to any person anywhere in the world is almost instantaneous. But behind every machine miracle there's lots of science and technology. Programs instruct a computer to play chest, for example. In 1996, an IBM computer program, Deep Blue, played chess with the world chess champion, Gary Kasparov, and defeated him.

Such a technical achievement has been boosting the claims of artificial intelligence. This is a computer field in search of a mission. To this day there's not a widely acceptable definition of what it is.

Yet artificial intelligence advocates behave as if they are mighty magicians. They make pronouncements about a future of mechanical-human bliss when, like Jesus, they would be cooking immortality and resurrection of human beings -- with enough cash. They also engineer "virtual reality" in the cyberspace. They are even searching for the "immortal mind."

Advanced artificial intelligence programs make computers speak almost like humans. Digital criminals take advantage of these advances ("chatbot technologies"). They put them to work for them: spreading propaganda, fraud, deceiving people to do things that are likely against their own interests or giving the computer criminals confidential information.

Malicious programs enable artificial intelligence avatars to spy and even extract ransom money.

The owners of artificial intelligence are well aware of its malevolent uses. They don't seem to mind that criminals are benefiting from their handiwork. They work primarily for the military and corporations, engineering weapons of surveillance and control. The military and "intelligence" agencies use these artificial intelligence programs for spying and corporations for dis-skilling, disciplining, and managing workers.

It was not always like this. Artificial intelligence was not born in crime and danger. A recent book, "Artificial Intelligence" by John Kontos and Poly Kasda (Notios Anemos, 2015), reveals a very interesting and telling early history of how and why engineers invented artificial intelligence.

Kontos, professor emeritus of artificial intelligence at the University of Athens, proudly says he was the first Greek engineer who constructed the first digital computer in Greece. This was in 1970. He mentions the world's oldest computer, the Antikythera Mechanism, which was a product of ancient Greek genius. This was a digital astronomical gear clockwork device, flourishing more than twenty-one-and-a-half centuries before 1970, that is, in the second century BCE.

Kontos bemoans the interruption of the golden age of Greek science that gave birth to the Antikythera computer. Westerners and Christianity in particular stifled more than fifteen centuries of Greek technological developments: from the first century BCE until the Turks captured the Greek capital, Constantinople, in 1453. Just imagine, he says, where the Greeks and the world would have been if only the Greeks had been left alone.

He describes the changes in Greece in near apocalyptic terms. "This civilization catastrophe may cost our planet the ecological catastrophe that the persisting barbarism of irrational environmental abuse may cause. Let us hope that the use of Aristotelian logic may prevail and save humankind from the imminent ecological catastrophe," he writes.

Kontos credits Aristotle for introspection and syllogisms. Aristotle's syllogisms triggered the evolution of artificial intelligence.

Kontos joined forces with Poly Kasda, an artist who studied "the self-combustive frenzy of 20th century art." Her 1985 booklet, "Conscious Eye," foresaw developments in artificial intelligence. Kasda noticed painters in the twentieth century were obsessed with introspection: paying more attention to the workings of their minds than the products of their art. Introspection was also in the background of the rising computer programs in artificial intelligence. So Kontos grasped the ingenuity of Kasda and expanded it into this broad understanding of what artificial intelligence is all about.

Kontos included a translation from the Greek of Kasda's the "Conscious Eye" into this book, one text seeding and illuminating the other. Indeed, Kontos updates and rejuvenates the insights of Kasda, and, in this innovation, creates an exciting, timely, refreshing, and fascinating history of artificial intelligence - of what it could have become.

I recommend Kontos' and Kasda's book. It is a timely, sophisticated, philosophical, and honest account of artificial intelligence, a problematic endeavor of great potential and grave risk.