Robots & Psychedelic Research/ Lost Ten Tribes

Hosted byRichard Syrett

Robots & Psychedelic Research/ Lost Ten Tribes

About the show

Can we build a robot that trips on acid? This is not a frivolous question, according to neuroscientist Andrew Smart. If we can’t, he argues, we haven’t really created artificial intelligence. In the first half, he joined Richard Syrett to discuss how he's weaved together the largely forgotten world of psychedelic research with the resurgent field of conscious machines. Smart provided background on Albert Hofmann's discovery and self-experiment with LSD, as well as the computational view of human thought in cognitive science and psychology. If a human tripping on acid is a computation, then a robot could possibly experience something similar, he reasoned. "If the robots should approach anywhere near human-level intelligence, I think it's necessary that they also develop human-level consciousness or sentience," he continued, noting some of the hurdles to real machine consciousness.

Artificial intelligence research has largely focused on logical problems, such as playing chess, and ignored simple things humans tend to do quite easily, like grasping and throwing a ball, which take more computations to accomplish than beating a grandmaster, Smart revealed. It is difficult to get computers to understand simple speech and to check for plausibility in their output, he added, pointing to a game of Jeopardy played by IBM's supercomputer Watson in which the computer experienced problems parsing questions. Smart lamented that big philosophical questions have been left out of AI research in favor of working on the next logical algorithm, and suggested the social sciences would be critical in order to get these systems to value human life.


In the second half of the program, historians Nelson & Wanda Thall shared their archaeological and mythological pursuit of the "Lost Ten Tribes." Wanda traced the original twelve tribes of Israel to the twelve sons of the Old Testament character Jacob (son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham). Each son received his own land and formed one nation under King Solomon, Nelson added. The two explained how after Solomon's death the tribes split apart, two formed Judah in the south and the other then the Kingdom of Israel in the north. The Assyrians captured the ten tribes and after their captivity they were scattered abroad, Nelson said. "They weren't really lost," Wanda noted.

According to Nelson, archaeological and linguistic evidence, as well as genetic science, show the ten tribes migrated from the Middle East across the north shore of the Mediterranean into Spain then north to the British Isles. "They weren't lost to [ancient] historians," he added, pointing to writings by Julius Caesar which mention the location of the brothers of Jacob. As recently as New Testament times the ten tribes are called the lost sheep of the House of Israel and the apostles are sent to minister to them, Nelson asserted. Wanda suggested the tribe of Ephraim took up residence on the British Isles, where the others tribes eventually followed. Nelson connected the Union Jack, Britain's national flag, to Jacob, as well as Scotland's Declaration of Independence, which references Israel as the origin of the Scottish people. Wanda also pointed to similarities between the Welsh language and Hebrew.

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