AI and the Meme

Johannah Johnston

The aim of cognitive science is to understand the mind, and a new frontier is emerging with the development of artificial intelligence and robotics. The thought that scientists will create a program based consciousness that is more intelligent than the human race and will decide to take over the world, can stir up fear for many people. The United States has an obsession with this idea, creating an abundance of popular fiction depicting the rise and dominance of intelligent machines over man. It is a common belief that we are on the brink of the singularity. The misinformation and fear surrounding the rise of intelligent machines is unfounded, and the development of A.I. is far from reaching independent consciousness

The unknown scares us as humans. This fear is part of our drive to understand. We study, observe, find patterns, synthesize, analyze and publish our findings to digitals spaces. This process creates a pool of public information with global access. For many reasons, this information is easily twisted. One propellant of this misinformation is the meme. Memes are information that is being replicated (Blackmore 2008). The information that is represented on one meme can be taken in so many different ways and from there the problem is perpetuated.

These images perpetuate misunderstandings. The excessive regurgitation of information regardless of its accuracy is dangerous and its power to influence large populations is extreme. It is no wonder we are afraid, this is an appropriate reaction to the thought of the extinction of our kind by what we do not understand.

To begin to understand artificial intelligence and undermine this misconception we need to understand a little bit more of our own minds. This is what the goal of cognitive science is to find the answer to. The way that they do this is by collecting and connecting information from philosophy, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, computer science, and neuroscience to find the “representational and computational capacities of the human mind and their structural and functional realization,” (Miller 2003).The human mind is  impressive and complex, robotics is a long way from being able to develop a computer system capable of matching the human brain, a nearly impossible task. Computers are built to do one thing extremely efficiently, they have an input that leads to an outcome the same way every time, whereas we are evolved to compile incredible amounts of sensory information and synthesize it in order to react and even build consciousness (Class Discussion)

We have three different ways of looking at A.I.: connectionism, computationalism, and robotics. None of which are close to cracking the code to creating consciousness. Connectionism is the model that reflects the way the human brain processes its world the most closely. It is about modeling the synapses in the brain in a software format. However, we can only make extremely basic programs that can only handle a small number of inputs of information before breaking down. The second is computationalism which is what most computers are. It is a start forward logistics pattern that has an input, a processing of the input and output. This is much more efficient information-wise but can only perform one input. This makes it really good at only one function. The final form is robotics and this is making a body that functions like a human does. Robotics has only been able scratch the surface of the abilities that the human brain and body is able to achieve, and this is most often reliant upon an outside person operating the machine (Kassan 2006). We have made amazing machines that can accomplish so much but any robot that can move can not do so autonomously,

Another reason that we find the singularity inherently terrifying is because we have trouble placing it in the realm of consciousness. For some people even if robots were to tell us they had feelings and emotions they would not count them as conscious. Part of our problem in understanding this is the perspective we have because we grew up in the American culture. We are pre-packaged with a dualistic perspective meaning that we believe that our brains and our minds are two different things. But this perspective does not explain the reasons why we have consciousness; it only explains that we do have one (Clark 200..). It has been proposed that we get rid of everything we know about consciousness and start from scratch with our search for a holistic understanding of cognition.

In the Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark by Larissa MacFarquar (2018), it is discussed that people in the fields of cognitive science who explore what the mind is have come to a dead end, going in circles and are unable to answer their own questions. What Andy Clark dares to suggest is that we have “simply misconstrued the nature of intelligence itself. A.I., how we have developed it is inherently different than we are. Cognitive scientists have forgotten the idea that human beings evolved to move and therein discover the world (MacFarquer 2018). Whereas machines generally must “think” before they move. They were created to fill in the gaps of what humans are naturally good at doing, like logic puzzles (Class Discussion). It seems that robotics, “hit a ceiling at a certain level of complexity,” because of the limits that machinery itself has that biological structures are not limited by (MacFarquer 2018). This is disappointing because we have neuroscientists who study the biological mind but there is still so much we have to understand about it. We cannot hope to copy the kind of intelligence the brain processes if we do not understand our own.

However, there is innovation and truth in this science. What the human species has done to harness technology to aid us is incredible. For example, new artificially censored limbs, have been better able to parallel with our brains to make more complex movements between man and machine. There are ways that are being developed to allow humans to see other light spectrums, wearable exoskeletons that have increased strength and endurance, and microchips that can bypass our need to use external devices (McKie 2018). All of these are forms of robotics and A.I. that do things for us but not without us. These machines are unable to be turned on without outside input. Transhumanism is interesting but beyond that, it is valuable as a philosophy because it allows us to comprehend our limitations as a species but also the great things we can accomplish (McKie 2018).

Knowing even a little bit about what is going on in the realm of cognitive science and Artificial intelligence can change the way we react to misinformation in all of its many forms. Hopefully, through the expansion of basic understanding of cognitive science, the popular misunderstanding and fear surrounding A.I. in America can be mitigated and ease anxieties through an informed perspective. We have so many exciting advancements to look forward to without the fear of a conscious program or the takeover of a new species.


Blackmmore, S. (2008) Meme and “temes”. TEDTalks. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_blackmore_memes_and_temes#t-364803

Clark, A. (2001). Mindware : an introduction to the philosophy of cognitive science. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kassan, P. (2006). A.I. gone awry: the futile quest for artificial intelligence. Skeptic, Vol 12(Issue 2), pg. 30-37.

MacFarquhar, M. (2018). The mind-expanding ideas of Andy Clark. The New Yorker,  April 2, 2018 Issue, Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/02/the-mind-expanding-ideas-of-andy-clark

McKie, R. (2018). No death and an enhanced life: is the future transhuman. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/06/no-death-and-an-enhanced-life-is-the-future-transhuman

Miller, G. A. (2003). The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(3), 141–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00029-9



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The Singularity Isn’t Nigh and Here’s Why Copyright © 2020 by Johannah Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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