3.9.2023 – fundamentally

flawed conception of our selves
language, knowledge

Adapted from:

Today our supposedly revolutionary advancements in artificial intelligence are indeed cause for both concern and optimism. Optimism because intelligence is the means by which we solve problems. Concern because we fear that the most popular and fashionable strain of A.I. — machine learning — will degrade our science and debase our ethics by incorporating into our technology a fundamentally flawed conception of language and knowledge.

It is at once comic and tragic, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

In the guest opinion essay, “The False Promise of ChatGPT” by Noam Chomsky (March 8, 2023, NYT).

Mr. Chomsky’s global standing as THE expert on language leaves me little room to argue, not that I would, as I was happy to read his opinions on the latest computer generated textual content craze that has a place in the current news cycle.

For me, the concept is as old as the Infinite Monkey Theory which states that if an infinite number of monkeys were left to bang on an infinite number of typewriters, sooner or later they would accidentally reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare.

It goes back to 1913 and Félix Édouard Justin Émile Borel a French mathematician, who wrote:

.. Concevons qu’on ait dressé un million de singes à frapper au hasard sur les touches d’une machine à écrire et que, sous la surveillance de contremaîtres illettrés, ces singes dactylographes travaillent avec ardeur dix heures par jour avec un million de machines à écrire de types variés. Les contremaîtres illettrés rassembleraient les feuilles noircies et les relieraient en volumes. Et au bout d’un an, ces volumes se trouveraient renfermer la copie exacte des livres de toute nature et de toutes langues conservés dans les plus riches bibliothèques du monde. Telle est la probabilité pour qu’il se produise pendant un instant très court, dans un espace de quelque étendue, un écart notable de ce que la mécanique statistique considère comme la phénomène le plus probable…*

I remembered it more from Bob Newhart who told the joke about the typing monkey’s, “Hey, Harry! This one looks a little famous: ‘To be or not to be – that is the gggzornonplatt.”

To be sure of the date, I did the google and read the article on Wikipedia.


So much on so little that for some reason caught the attention of so many people including a ‘famous’ study by some fellers named, Hoffmann and Hofmann!

It seems that the image of an infinite number of typing monkeys is just the thing to get stuck in a lot of people’s brain.

And, for the record, my family name is Hofman, but my Grandpa thought it looked unbalanced and changed it to Hoffman.

I think to get four spellings of the same last name into 2 sentences is pretty good for a non monkey!

To return to Mr. Chomsky and his something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind.

I used to try to observe objectively my mind in action as it worked to process all the information coming into my brain as I drove into Atlanta.

I was pretty much left in awe everytime.

In his books, C.S. Forester has several scenes where the hero is in a situation surrounded by activity and is called on to make decision after decision.

In these scenes, one of the sources of activity is either a beeping clock or someone else calling off the time in 5 second intervals or some such thing that marks the time in the background and the hero begins to contemplate how in the world the brain can process all the data let alone arrive at a conclusion, let alone a successful conclusion, in the time allowed for the situation.

Infinite use of finite means, creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

It is, the mind, an incredible thing.

click on image to watch music and listen

To shift from text to music, I have long said that I had been allowed to compose the first 8 bars or so of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #11, I could die a happy person.

When Artificial Intelligence can compose this music, then email me a note.

When Artificial Intelligence can compose this music and KNOW what it did, then text me.

When Artificial Intelligence can LISTEN to this and feel it and know it is special and also know that if the computer was unplugged today, that computer would be happy that it has composed such a piece, then call me.

*.. Let us imagine that a million monkeys have been trained to type at random on the keys of a typewriter and that, under the supervision of illiterate foremen, these typing monkeys work with ardor ten hours a day with a million machines to write of various types. Illiterate foremen would collect the blackened sheets and bind them into volumes. And at the end of a year, these volumes would be found to contain the exact copy of the books of all kinds and all languages ​​preserved in the richest libraries of the world. Such is the probability that there will occur for a very short instant, in a space of some extent, a notable deviation from what statistical mechanics considers to be the most probable phenomenon… (Yes I used a computer generated translation)

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