Machines - Humans - Non-Humans - Dreaming
Jan Visser, President, Learning Development Institute comments on the dialogue about Machines and whether they can dream
Fascinating dialogue, Ron and Ronny. What it brings to mind in me is the idea that dreaming should perhaps be contemplated as an integrated part of our cognitive and metacognitive abilities. It has something to do with going beyond the immediacy of what we perceive through the senses and our processing of the signals generated by it. Letting our mind work in a focused manner on a particular problem can get us a long way. However, because of the focus we put onto it, we often also limit our creativity. Dreaming, as we do it at night while we sleep, may be a way of unfocusing and thus of allowing the mind to access experiences we would not otherwise link to our immediate concerns. Even while awake we often get the best ideas when we allow ourselves to leave the trodden path of focused pursuit and start daydreaming. I personally find the rhythmic movement of walking generative of such constructive daydreaming and have come across, in the literature, of quite a number of accounts of enhanced creativity linked to the act of walking. Perhaps we should make machines enjoy the natural rhythm of their being - if they have any - before they become able to dream. An artistic expression of this idea can be found in the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, which was brought to my attention by Diana Stirling a few days before the start of our colloquium. Jansen makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind (see http://www.strandbeest.com/).
John Avery adds this comment
Ron, I was interested to hear that you are addressing the question of whether machines will one day be able to dream. I remember asking Benny Latrup this question at lunch one day at the Niels Bohr Institute. (Benny has written a book on neural networks and artificial intelligence). Someone at the table said "You have asked him his favorite question!" Benny then gave us a long lecture on dreaming. He said that if one looks at brain weight versus intelligence going up the evolutionary ladder, one finds that there is a sudden discontinuity, a jump upward in intelligence without a corresponding increase in brain weight. This discontinuity, Benny told us, is attributable to the evolution of dreaming. He concluded that dreaming computers will inevitably be developed.