Transduction: Romance and the machine
A fair amount of us in the Western world are connecting to machines every day.
Not just tapping on the laptop, but actually inviting machines to read us.
We have done this for a while, a long time really, with doctors making inferences from pumping up a cuff around our biceps as to what our baroreceptors, hearts and vagus nerves are doing to each other, or drawing blood to rate us statistically against others just like us in terms of metabolic function, or looking to rate our oxygen saturation by placing an oximeter on our fingers. Today of course, we wear a watch connected to a phone, that measures heart rate or how long we spent in each phase of sleep. We have even measured what might be happening in our brains: first with EEG, then CT, MRI, fMRI, PET and SPECT, QEEG and DTI.
All of this had and has as its purpose, the need to gather information to work out how to enrich our lives. The need to gather data, to use to enhance our experience of the world.
Psychologists have watched people’s body language, or asked them to answer questions on an inventory, or play games with them to infer what might be the valence of their emotional experience. Guessing. Matarazzo wrote about the way we make inferences about the internal workings of the mind in his presidential address to the APA in 1990, that this process, no matter how skilled “Rather than being totally objective.... involves a subjective component”.
While subjective data is useful, it also is subject to all the biases that humans can bring to it.
Our appreciation for music, for art, for someone’s backside, all are subject to bias. Sciencedoes not bring certainty: your LDL as assessed by your blood test is actually just a statisticalcalculation, and the ‘real’ level could be 10% or more adrift. A study at the p=95 certainty means that theoretically the correlation that A varies reliably with B will hold true if you do the same measure 100 times, but 5 times it will not. Ridiculously, psychologists may actually comment if the p is in the right direction, but not actually reaching significant levels. It means it isn’t significant.
We can send humans to the moon and back, but we cannot reliably infer what they are feeling.
The problem begins there. Feelings are perceptions are not. So, for instance, if you ‘feel’ anxiety, you ‘feel’ bad, afraid. Feelings are not emotions. Fear is an emotion, and we only know we have it because we become aware of the physical nature of it, expressed in our perception as a feeling. Emotions are physical states, feelings are not.
Which means we can measure emotions, by accurately measuring the physiological parameters that produce them. Some dogs bark because they are scared, some are angry, some are just saying hello or communicating the desire to play, or just excited. That range is limited. What are they ‘feeling’ when they lower their head and tail approaching us? Is this contrition, fear, just a display of subservience? We are warned not to anthropomorphize animals or insects who may be responding in set ways, devoid of intellect or choice.
We often look at animals, and wonder at how human their attributes are, and particularly if they are apes, we see so much of ourselves in their behavior, marvelling at Bonobo’s and Chimps in particular. This is a dangerous pursuit apparently if you happen to be close to Louise Barrett at the time. Barrett makes it clear that we have followed very different evolutionary trajectories from other creatures, even if we tend to anthropomorphize them, but we live in different places in different bodies to them, and in many cases, such as the working memory of some apes, they exceed our capacities and challenge us for ascendency in some areas of endeavour. Simply put, we cannot project the things we do and how we think about our challenges that we solve in terms of how animals do their own things. Despite the corporeality of our emotions, we are not animals.
Intelligent behavior is thus determined outside the brain as well, dictated by physical circumstances, by what Bill Blessing calls the visceral brain. Barrett thus continues the tradition of body brain integration that has emerged over the last few years, given the brain is an integral part of the body-brain organism and cannot be separated from it in terms of how we think and feel and solve problems: much of cognition is thus dictated by events outside of the brain itself. This physical presence means the thirst for water and how we set about finding and using water are inseparable and defined by events and circumstance outside of the brain.
Traits from different animals cannot thus be seen as typically or uniquely human either. Scientific endeavour’s attempt to gather data cannot simply reflect our own concerns and solutions as humans, projected onto animals: so, for instance how an animal would solve a human problem, is irrelevant.
What helped us solve our issues may not be a gift or even necessary for other animals, not even a large brain may be useful at all for some problems in evolution. Plants then do not need to think, nor feel pain when we pluck them, nor do they need anything analogous to a human nervous system to solve the challenges they face. The whole of evolution was not crafted to produce us as the most supreme creature; the other creatures that survived do quite nicely without any human qualities at all, and in a sense represent the best of problem solving in evolution for their intended evolutionary target. Anthropocentrism is thus a bias which hinders scientific enquiry.
Knowing that a creature will do something and then thinking that this is explained by some intention is a fallacy that Barrett sets out to dispel. However, she also notes that ouranthropomorphic tendencies are helpful for identifying relevant evolutionary questions and answers, we need to know how to use it more usefully without mistaken attributions.
At Transhuman, we have set out to deal with the issues and pitfalls of mistaken attribution. Via the science of transduction, we seek to accurately negotiate human emotions within the inner world of body and brain that they inhabit. We know disgust has its own internal life, linked to the insula and prefrontal cortex, separate from lesser emotions, such as fear, who serve at the mercy of the amygdala: the insula is so much more self-referential. As AI begins to serve our world and our ambitions, personalized and agile approaches to accurately transducing emotion into the record via a rolling buffer and making sense of what makes us respond to our environment, has the potential to scaffold humanity’s greatest works.
What it means to be human is best distilled by human meaning, varying by the millisecond and operating in the few hundred milliseconds before conscious appreciation of what just happened reaches working memory. Transhuman sets out to capture those Kodak moments that no one has ever seen and bring them to conscious life.
---About Dr Sugarman
Dr Roy Sugarman is a Member of the Australian Psychological Society's Colleges of Clinical Neuropsychologists and Clinical Psychologists, of the Royal Charter of Psychologists in the UK, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Member of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Neuropsychology, and Facultyof Paediatric Neuropsychology, and the American Psychological Association.
He has had input into major corporations' corporate health including programs at IBM, Intel, Sheraton, Walgreens, Cisco, Sony, SAP, Wesfarmers, Google, Johnson and Johnson, United Health Group, Union Pacific Railroads, and others, historically including Aviva and Singapore Armed Forces, Sun Life in Manila and Orix in Japan, FWD worldwide.Dr Sugarman's clinical work continues in traumatic brain injury, mood and anxiety disorders in children and adults, and he serves as a Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at UNSW, assisting with the assessment of candidates for medicine. With numerous publications, Dr Sugarman has developed an integrated approach to achieving peak performance in both body and brain which is internationally recognized as being the current state of the art in both rehabilitation and peak performance circles: his work was showcased in the well received TV series, Body and Brain Overall on OneHD and Channel 10. His online program "The neuroscience of Peak Performance", produced by EXOS Presents in the USA, is highly commended. He has contributed to other EXOS Works presentations promoting best practice in professional coaching circles.