Changing our intuitions about agency


Via Machines Like Us I came across this demonstration by Audi of a car that will, by itself and without a driver, find a parking space in a parking garage and park itself and then return to you at the entrance when you call it.

It looks kind of creepy and it reminded me of this prank where the people working at a fast-food drive thru are surprised to see a driverless car pull up.

As driverless cars get added to the other things in our lives that operate without a visible human behind it, I was wondering how our intuitive sense of agency (that inanimate objects need an animate agent to make them move) will become changed as people get used to the idea that science can give more and more objects the illusion of being under the control of unseen people.

Will people become so used to the idea that technology can create the illusion of agency that they will start to assume the opposite of what our intuition has long told us, and begin to think that there must be a rational scientific explanation for what seems mysterious?

That would be a good thing.

Comments

  1. machintelligence says

    Perhaps we need to rewrite Clark’s third law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic) to become: For a sufficiently advanced civilization, magic is indistinguishable from technology.

  2. says

    I don’t think so. I think people will see the computer more and more as an intelligent, independent agent–which has been intelligently designed to boot. It won’t make undirected Nature seem any more capable of creating order or complexity on its own on an intuitive level.

  3. Jay says

    Thank god for creating robotic cars. At least our heavenly father gives us an escape from the boring, plodding, errorful task of driving cars in the mindless gehenna of modern traffic laws.

  4. Johnny Vector says

    I don’t recall where I heard it, but I always enjoyed the contrapositive form: Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

  5. machintelligence says

    Exactly. Because we create design from the top down we believe that the universe works the same way. In the words of Dan Dennett:

    Darwin’s idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers — welcome or not — to question in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn’t that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own “real” minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin’s idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) p.63

    In the Theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer, so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express in a condensed form the essential purport of the Theory and to express in a few words all Mr Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill. [MacKenzie 1868.]

    Exactly! Darwin’s “strange inversion of reasoning” was in fact a new and wonderful way of thinking; completely overturning the Mind-first way that John Locke “proved” and David Hume could see no way around… But the idea of treating Mind as an effect rather than as First Cause is too revolutionary for some — an “awful stretcher” that their own minds cannot accommodate comfortably. This is as true today as it was in 1860, and it has always been as true of some of evolution’s best friends as of its foes. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) p.65-6

    Of course it is counterintuitive, but it’s the way the universe works.

  6. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Will people become so used to the idea that technology can create the illusion of agency that they will start to assume the opposite of what our intuition has long told us, and begin to think that there must be a rational scientific explanation for what seems mysterious?

    I get the feeling that it would be more likely to reinforce their ideas of a designer.

  7. boadinum says

    Acolyte of Sagan

    “I get the feeling that it would be more likely to reinforce their ideas of a designer.”

    I agree. That car has no driver…I don’t understand…ergo god.

  8. thebookofdave says

    So which part of this car is the seat of its soul? And what happens to its spirit if you unplug it?

  9. Emu Sam says

    Barry Gehm. I have a collection of corollaries.

    How can you tell magic from science?

    Clarke’s Three Laws

    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.” – Foglio 20081205

    “Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.” Niven

    “Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.” Gehm

    “Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it.” Stanley

    Any sufficiently advanced and reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology.

    “Any sufficiently advanced alien is indistinguishable from God.” Shermer

  10. Stacy says

    @thebookofdave, the answer to your second question is obvious. If it was a good car, it goes to car heaven, and gets lots of lube jobs and premium gas and can zoom all it wants on traffic-free roads. If it was a bad car it goes to car hell, where a mechanic called Luke does awful things to it with a wrench for all eternity.

  11. kevinalexander says

    IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT.

    yes. This also explains why humans have evolved a love of repetitive ritual. A person who wants to sing a song or dance a dance can also want to learn a technology. Maybe weave a net or haft an axe or make some other useful thing or follow some useful process even if he or she has NO IDEA WHAT SHE’S DOING.

  12. kevinalexander says

    When we get robotic cars then it will no longer be necessary to own a car. Subtract the cost of the taxi driver and the taxi ride becomes cheaper than owning a car.
    Drink as much as you want at the bar, press the car icon on your iPhone and a car goes to your GPS coordinates and takes you home.

  13. Brian Faux says

    Notice that as the car pulls away it looks like its going to hit the kerb – interesting place for an edit. Also I wouldnt like to be stuck behind it : makes my 96 year old granny look like a racing driver.

  14. Mano Singham says

    I noticed that too and wondered about it. Also, I was not sure how it would distinguish between reserved parking spots and open ones.

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