Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Suicide and Ireland

Figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the number of suicides registered in Ireland fell by 6% last year. The CSO's yearly summary shows 475 suicides were registered in 2013, compared to 507 in 2012. The CSO statistics show several counties recording rates of suicide well above the national average of 10.3 per 100,000 population. Males accounted for over 83% of all suicide deaths last year. The number of registered suicides in the 15-24 age group fell by 23% last year, however Ireland still has the fourth highest suicide rate in that age group in the European Union (RTE, 2014).

Women are likely to attempt suicide about three times more often than men, but men are, on average, three times more likely to actually kill themselves. These differences may be due to (1) a higher incidence of depression in women and (2) men's choice of more violent and lethal methods, such as shooting themselves or jumping off buildings. The suicide rate for both men and women is higher among those who have been divorced or widowed. Women's suicides are more likely to be triggered, although not certain to be triggered by any means, by failures in love relationships, whereas career failure more often prompts men's suicides (Shneidman, 1976). Further, a history of sexual or physical abuse significantly increases the likelihood of later suicide attempts (Garnefski & Arends, 1998).

Is suicide contagious?

Most people react to hearing the news of a suicide with sadness and curiosity. Some people react by attempting suicide themselves, often by the same method they have just heard about. Gould (1990) reported an increase in suicides during a 9-day period after widespread publicity about a suicide. Clusters of suicides (several people copying one person) seem to predominate among teenagers, with as many as 5% of all teenage suicides reflecting an imitation (Gould, 1990; Gould, Greenberg, Velting, & Shaffer, 2003). Suicide prevention charity Console has called for a real-time register of suicide data to be kept. It said it could then "act on timely and accurate statistics to put measures in place to prevent such phenomena as suicide clustering or contagion".

Why would anyone want to copy a suicide? First, suicides are often romanticized in the media: An attractive young person under unbearable pressure commits suicide and becomes a martyr to friends and peers by getting even with the (adult) world for creating such a difficult situation. Also, media accounts often describe in detail the methods used in the suicide, thereby providing a guide to potential victims. Little is reported about the paralysis, brain damage, and other tragic consequences of the incomplete or failed suicide or about how suicide is almost always associated with a severe psychological disorder. More important, even less is said about the futility of this method of solving problems (Gould, 1990, 2001; O’Carroll, 1990).

To prevent these tragedies, mental health professionals must intervene immediately in schools and other locations with people who might be depressed or otherwise vulnerable to the contagion of suicide. But it isn’t clear that suicide is ''contagious'' in the infectious disease sense. Rather, the stress of a friend’s suicide or some other major stress may affect several individuals who are vulnerable because of existing psychological disorders (Durand & Barlow, 2013).
''The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness'' ~ Abraham Maslow

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Chinese Room Argument

The Chinese room argument is a thought experiment. It was first proposed by the US philosopher John Searle (pictured) in the journal Behavioural and Brain Sciences in 1980 , in which many people feel he thoroughly disproved the notion that any computer program could acquire true intelligence. It is one of the best known and widely credited counters to claims of artificial intelligence (AI) - that is, to claims that computers do or at least can (someday might) think.

It was written to demonstrate a simple point - intelligent behaviour does not equate to intelligence. This doesn't mean AI design is impossible, but that a behavioural-based model for intelligence is flawed.

Imagine yourself a monolingual English speaker, ''locked in a room, and given a large batch of Chinese writing'' plus ''a second batch of Chinese script” and ''a set of rules'' in English ''for correlating the second batch with the first batch.'' As Searle explains how it works: ''Suppose that unknown to you the symbols passed into the room are called 'questions' by the people outside the room, and the symbols you pass back out of the room are called 'answers to the questions' ''. Just by looking at your answers, nobody can tell you ''don't speak a word of Chinese.''

The point he makes is that you may hand out the appropriate and even accurate answers and that those responses may serve to connect with the expectations of those asking the questions.  However, it does not indicate that any real understanding has taken place or that any sort of meaning is actually attached to the question and answer process that is taking place.

It should be conceded that Searle's argument is effective in showing that certain kinds of machines - even machines that pass the Turing Test - are not necessarily intelligent and do not necessarily "understand" the words that they speak. This is because a computer sitting on a desk with no sensory apparatus and no means of causally interacting with objects in the world will be incapable of understanding a language. Such a machine might be capable of manipulating linguistic symbols, even to the point of producing output that will fool human speakers and thus pass the Turing Test. However, the words produced by such a machine would lack one crucial ingredient: The words would fail to express any meaningful content and thus would fail to be "about" anything.

What's the point?
It doesn't matter how perfectly a computer is designed to simulate the intelligence of a human being - because its behaviour is a result of aimlessly executing instructions, not understanding. In this case, the means defines the end. You're reading this sentence, and understanding it without demonstrating behaviour of any kind. A system's behaviour doesn’t indicate intelligence or understanding, and a system that behaves intelligently is not necessarily ''intelligent.''
Before we work on artificial intelligence why don't we do something about natural stupidity