II. A singular mind

Roger Penrose- Physicist

Roger Penrose got the Nobel prize for his work on black holes. He combined the creativity and mathematics (visual representation of conceptual facts) to drive his ideas in research. I have written extensively about it in a few of my earlier iterations- on the idea of neurosciences, creativity and thoughts. The focus on this blog is NOT the black holes- far from it. I like to see how technology can have an outsized influence on the practise of medicine. In between, of course, add a few papers that I find interesting because they contribute to the furtherance of clinical medicine. I dislike and abhor the complexities (and absurdity) of the paper writing by making simple conceptual ideas into arcane ones. Ideally, of course, papers could have a simpler format of a blog!

What prompted me to include this in the end of the year read is this-

Cosmology is just one of Penrose’s interests. He has also thought deeply about consciousness and artificial intelligence. There’s a lot of hype about AI flying around these days, including the recent report that scientists at DeepMind have used it to ‘solve’ protein folding. Yet for decades, Penrose has been consistent in his scepticism about the grand claims made for AI’s potential.

There was some open letter (which I wasn’t aware of):

Nevertheless, others are not so sure that humans will continue to have the upper hand. In 2015, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others signed the Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence, calling for research into the potentially catastrophic consequences of the so-called technological singularity. This refers to the moment when machines will achieve artificial general intelligence. According to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this was going to happen on 29 August 1997, when Skynet — an artificial neural network capable of rapid learning — would become self-aware.

This is exactly why AI gets a bad name. Hype + movies+ marketing and playing on the fear factor. I also have a distinct feeling that movies are being used to condition us (and numb us) to the actual realities on the ground- surveillance systems, tracking and data pools which benefits from the algorithms instead of the machine learning ideas that can actually help the individuals.


Penrose doubts it will ever happen. ‘In any case, I think we’ve already passed the singular moments most experts were predicting, right? They keep pushing it to later!’ His big concern about AI isn’t Judgment Day, but rather ‘that people will believe machines actually understand things’. He gives examples of symmetrical chess configurations in which humans consistently outperform computers by abstracting to a higher level in which a proof of a draw becomes clear. This abstraction to different levels is key to scientific research. The inability of machines to abstract in this way doesn’t bode well for the prospect of their surprising us with original insights.

Here’s something interesting to munch on:

Do I believe in something outside science? Well, it’s a bit hard to know. What is science? Where are its boundaries? Is there something going on in consciousness, which is outside of science? Well, I like not to think that. It is certainly outside the science we have now. But it’s something we can explore scientifically. Whether we will have an understanding of what’s going on, which is deep enough to solve the mystery of what it is to be, I don’t know.’

Read more.