Joscha Bach is one of those rare people whose primary motivation is unbound curiosity and inspiration. He clearly loves what he does and you can’t help but notice his radiating passion and youthful exuberance. Joscha has an impressively wide and deep knowledge in a variety of scientific, philosophical and artistic disciplines and I had to do my best just to keep up with Bach’s brilliant fast-paced mind and stream of consciousness. I enjoyed our conversation immensely and hope you love it too.
During our 130-minute interview with Joscha Bach, we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: the space between academia and professorship; if organisms are algorithms, philosophy, and ethics; growing up in East Germany; science, art, evolution and the meaning of life; mathematics, computing and the limits thereof; the usefulness of useless knowledge; climate change and “the demise of humanity;” artificial intelligence and consciousness; why we are stories in a movie that the brain is creating, the difference between scholars and scientists…
Just some of my favorite quotes from Joscha Bach are:
“If you take this as a computer game metaphor, this is like the best level for humanity to play. And this best level happens to be the last level for humanity to play, as it happens against the backdrop of a dying world. But it’s still the best level.”
“Intelligence is the ability to make models. What is a model? A model is something that explains information. Information is discernable differences at your systemic interface. And the meaning of information is the relationships you discover to changes in other information.”
“Ethics is the principled negotiation of conflicts of interest and the conditions of shared purpose.”
“Some people think that a simulation can’t be conscious and only a physical system can. But they got it completely backward: a physical system cannot be conscious. Only a simulation can be conscious. Consciousness is a simulated property of the simulated self.”
“The practice of AI is in a way statistics on steroids. It’s experimental statistics. It’s identifying new functions to model reality.”
“AI is like sex: sometimes something useful comes from it … but it is not why we do it.”
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Joscha Bach, Ph.D. is a cognitive scientist focused on cognitive architectures, mental representation, emotion, social modeling, and learning. He earned his Ph.D. in cognitive science from the University of Osnabrück, Germany. He is especially interested in the philosophy of AI, and in using computational models and conceptual tools to understand our minds and what makes us human. Joscha has taught computer science, AI, and cognitive science at the Humboldt-University of Berlin, the Institute for Cognitive Science at Osnabrück, and the MIT Media Lab, and authored the book “Principles of Synthetic Intelligence” (Oxford University Press). He currently works at the Harvard Program for Evolutionary Dynamics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.