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AI, lucid dreams and electric bananas

As we develop our ideas about brain science and machine learning, it’s easy to sense that the limitations of language confuse talk of human and machine intelligence as if they were the same. That they are not is most obvious when we talk about dreams.

An article appeared on the Slate website last summer, asking: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Bananas?” More intriguing was the strapline: “Google’s DeepDream is dazzling, druggy, and creepy. It’s also the future of AI”. What almost inspired a BAMblog at the time was a quoted comment mistakenly describing DeepDream’s creative output as “kitsch” – an aesthetic judgement – when it more properly should be described as derivative – a functional judgement. The resulting “So what?” being left unanswered, the blog went unwritten and the idea was put to sleep.

A small riot of stories over the past couple of weeks have revived the idea, however, while illustrating how advances in neuro-imaging are enhancing our understanding of the correlations between stimulus and response in the human brain. We learn of the semantic atlas at the University of California at Berkeley, mapping the parts of the brain that react to words and ideas, and we read about the study at Imperial College, London of the “Brain on LSD”, with its intriguing sidebar on the enhancement of the experience when music is added to the mix.

Coming along as a companion to the Imperial story, a piece on Psychology Today reveals “How to have a mystical experience”, suggesting that the conscious release of analytic control to our emotionally-driven limbic promptings can induce a sense of consciousness without boundaries, cosmic unity, and transcendence . . . maa-an. Topping it all is no less eminent an authority than a BuzzFeed listicle with “15 lucid dreaming facts that will make you question reality”. Interesting but unlikely, that; although it serves to remind us that as creatures who can think about our thinking and be conscious that we are dreaming, we are doing things that AI cannot do. Yet.

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