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It takes only two things to keep people in chains: The ignorance of the oppressed and the treachery of their leaders..
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The title of this post, “Does your computer play?” could have you thinking about the games you have loaded into your iPad.

Or perhaps your mind drifts to the computers that win at chess, Jeopardy, or Go.

But that is not what the title means.

It means literally, “does your computer play?” and by “play, ” we mean, play for its own enjoyment, just as you do.

The notion that a computer can have enjoyment, and even play to obtain it, may sound absurd.

Siri, who seemingly knows how to find any answer (though repeatedly confuses the question) is not smart enough to enjoy anything, much less enjoy playing. Even our massively brilliant, super-computers are not intelligent enough to have emotions or to desire play. So we ask:

Do today’s super-computers have as much brainpower as a wasp?

Here are a few excerpts from an article in the June, 2017 issue of Discover Magazine.

Image result for gecko playing

Do geckos play? If so, do they enjoy playing?

Turtles, Spiders and Other Surprisingly Playful Animals
Mammals aren’t the only ones who can have a good time.
By: Marta Zaraska

In April 2013, on board an unmanned spacecraft, a thick-toed gecko wriggled out of its polyurethane collar.

In microgravity, the object floated away, approaching another gecko, and then a third. The animals got curious.

One pushed the collar with its snout. Another tried inserting its head into it. Yet another pinned the thing down to the floor.

As the spacecraft orbited Earth, the geckos started to play.

If Geckos are capable of play, are they smarter than a super computer?

It’s not just kittens and baby chimps that play, but also birds, reptiles, fish and even invertebrates, including spiders and wasps.  Until recently, researchers doubted these diverse species were even capable of the (play) behavior.

Consider the case of Pigface, a Nile soft-shelled turtle who spent nearly his entire life alone in an enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

In the 1980s, when Pigface was already in his 40s, he began biting himself and clawing at his face. “He used to self-mutilate so bad he’d get fungal growth on his skin,” recalls Gordon Burghardt, a behavioral biologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“So the reptile curator thought, ‘Hey, maybe he’s bored?’ No one back then thought that reptiles could get bored.”

In 1991, Burghardt and other researchers gave Pigface two basketballs and a round hoop fashioned from a garden hose, then recorded his behavior. Pigface resembled a frolicking dog: He’d nose, bite, push and shake the toys with his mouth.

“That was the first pretty good proof that reptiles could play,” he says.

Boredom cured.

Burghardt had speculated that an evolutionary purpose of play is to relieve boredom. But this begs the question, “What is the evolutionary purpose of boredom?”

Boredom’s apparent prevalence among animals indicates it must have some evolutionary purpose, and if so, might that purpose be to create curiosity?  And the purpose of curiosity might be to stimulate learning. And learning clearly has evolutionary improvement advantages.

According to Burghardt, play is defined as a behavior that is:

  1. Voluntary
  2. Repeated several times
  3. Doesn’t have an obvious function (so running for fun, yes, but not running away from a predator)
  4. Differs in significant ways from regular, functional behavior
  5. Initiated by healthy, largely unstressed animals.

Immediately, however, we run into a difficulty. What is “voluntarily”? Some would argue that nothing we do is “voluntarily,” because all we do is a result of our chemistry.

But, before descending into sophistry, let’s assume that we do have free will. Do dogs have free will? Frogs? Insects? Do computers have free will? If free will exists, where does it end?

As for #3, “obvious” function, “obvious” to whom? Doesn’t the rough play of lion cubs serve an “obvious” training function?

Finally, #5 demands healthy, unstressed animals. Really? Unhealthy or stressed animals can’t play?  I’m not so sure about that.

There are many different types of play, some of them simpler than others.

Take ravens, for example. In an experiment published in 2014, researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Lund University in Sweden observed a group of ravens interacting with a small stuffed mouse and a plastic spider.

Sometimes, the birds would manipulate the toys with their beaks or feet — what scientists call object play. Sometimes, if one raven started to play with a toy, another would join — that’s social play.

That’s play at its simplest and most primitive: the running, jumping and romping around that’s defined as locomotion play. No big brain required.

A comparison across 15 orders of mammals showed that larger-brained orders contained more playful species. However, within a given order, such as, say, primates, some of the most playful species were those with the tiniest brains.

Regardless of size, play may enhance a brain’s functionality. Play changes the brain, affecting development of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for complex thoughts and regulating emotions.

In one experiment, playing enhanced the young rats’ neural plasticity, which helped them to be more flexible in their behavior later in life.

Which demonstrates the functionality of play, drawing into question description #3. Play often is a rehearsal for real life.

So what if you are a spider and you don’t have a cortex at all? Can you still play? Most likely, yes, says Jonathan Pruitt, an evolutionary ecologist who studies spider behavior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Pruitt, Burghardt and Susan Riechert from the University of Tennessee described a peculiar behavior of the Anelosimus studiosus spider. Males and immature females of this species engage in what Pruitt calls “almost-sex,” and they do it over and over again.

The “almost-sex” differs in quite important ways from the real deal, one of them being that the male doesn’t end up being eaten. Under normal reproductive conditions, there’s a 30 percent chance that a female will eat the male. “But they never kill any of the males during these play interactions,” Pruitt says.

Toning down on aggression is a typical feature of play; it’s even been noted in wasps.

Back in 2006, Italian scientists studying young paper wasps noticed that when the insects aggregate in clusters to keep each other warm and survive the winter, they engage in something very much resembling play-fighting in mammals.

They beat the antennae of other wasps, lick them and bite them, behaviors that don’t serve any obvious function.

“You don’t need a big brain to play,” Burghardt says. “How it is organized is probably more important.”

If you don’t need a big brain to play — if even wasps can play — what then is required for play? 

Jennifer Mather, a psychologist, and her colleague, Roland Anderson of the Seattle Aquarium, gave a few bored octopuses old pill bottles just to see what would happen. And the animals played.

They jetted water at the bottles, pushing the “toy” away, waited for it to float back on the aquarium intake’s current and pushed it away again, over and over, seemingly enjoying themselves.

As for why play evolved at all, there is no simple answer. The surplus resource theory, as Burghardt calls it, also helps explain why geckos on board the spacecraft started to play while their cousins on Earth — the control group — didn’t.

Reptiles depend on external sources of heat, and have a metabolic rate much slower than that of birds or mammals. It’s harder and more costly for them to engage in vigorous activities in normal circumstances. But in space, near-weightlessness made it less energetically costly to play, and so they did.

Are spiders and wasps and geckos actually having fun? Burghardt described how three cichlid fish played with a thermometer in their tank, bouncing the “toy” repeatedly. The animals were clearly playing, but how much (or even if) they were enjoying themselves was impossible to tell.

On the other hand, Bekoff and others who have observed ravens rolling down mounds of snow, sometimes doing so on their backs with sticks held in their feet, had a much clearer feeling that fun was involved.

Does what we call “play” necessarily involve fun? Or, is it just a cure for boredom? Or, is it a serious rehearsal for real life?

Coming back to your computer, do computers get bored? Can computers have “fun”? Can computers play?

Experiments done in rats hint that specific chemical messengers in the brain, such as dopamine and endocannabinoids, may have a role in the pleasure of play. The endocannabinoid system, which is involved in processing sensations such as pain and regulating mood  does occur in fish, birds, amphibians and possibly even in sea urchins.

Dopamine, long known to be a gatekeeper for the brain’s pleasure center, “is present in spiders, and we know it has large influence on behavior,” says Pruitt, yet he admits that we still have zero idea whether it could make play fun for spiders.

“One thing we might learn is that play is a very basic behavior and a very needed one in the repertoire of very diverse species,” Bekoff says. “Ant play may be different from dog play, but it may be important for the ants.”

Even octopuses and spiders need play.

Need play for what? What is there about play that all animals seem to need? What does play contribute to evolution?

And if play does contribute to the evolution of animal species, can play contribute to the evolution of computers.? If animals can play, what prevents computers from playing? Questions, questions.

Until recently, we humans have been the prime evolutionary force for computers. Improving computers has meant we continuously have made them more life-like. They can see, hear, speak, and understand languages. They can recognize faces and voices. They can learn and make decisions. They can drive cars.

With the advent of machine learning, we have given computers a bit of ability to self-evolve. What then are computers missing, that separates them from humans, geckos, and wasps?

Perhaps the clue may be found in one sentence from the article:

“In one experiment, playing enhanced the young rats’ neural plasticity, which helped them to be more flexible in their behavior later in life.”

Living brains and nervous systems are not digital and not solely electronic. They also are analog and chemical. They not only can change physically but function differently, depending on chemical input. Those billions of neurons in the human brain and the thousands in a wasp brain are adaptable via learning.

The on/off digital settings of computer neurons can accomplish a narrower range of functions than can the near-infinite analog settings of living synapses.  The narrower range allows computers to be faster and more accurate, but far less flexible.

That is the tradeoff: Speed and accuracy for flexibility and growth.

Can we have both? Life’s electrochemical, analog, nervous systems, which seem to operate at the quantum level, allow very tiny animals to produce such massive complexities as emotions, and desires, and boredom, and with boredom, the desire to relieve that boredom with play.

It is doubtful that on/off digital systems ever will match that complexity, though perhaps quantum computers, which come somewhat closer to analog thought than digital, may accomplish the task.

One day, quantum and/or analog computers could be as smart as a wasp,  and able to enjoy play — or even become as smart as a human.

So far, our massive brains have not been able to create purposefully, what nature has given us accidentally — that incredibly complex entity we call “life.”

But nature has had two developmental advantages: Billions of years and many trillions of experiments.

Given time and effort, we may create computers that mimic life. That is what we want, what we have been trying to accomplish: Entities that can feel boredom and enjoyment at playing, like wasps and birds, and also are fast and accurate like digital computers — i.e. humans, only better.

If ever you walk into your office and find your computer playing, and when you try to interrupt the game, your computer whines to you angrily, “Wait until I finish,” you’ll be able to infer that we, as creators, have achieved a truly quantum leap in computer evolution.

When your computer plays, we will be gods.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Monetary Sovereignty

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THOUGHTSs

•All we have are partial solutions; the best we can do is try.

•Those, who do not understand the differences between Monetary Sovereignty and monetary non-sovereignty, do not understand economics.

•Any monetarily NON-sovereign government — be it city, county, state or nation — that runs an ongoing trade deficit, eventually will run out of money no matter how much it taxes its citizens.

•The more federal budgets are cut and taxes increased, the weaker an economy becomes..

•No nation can tax itself into prosperity, nor grow without money growth.

•Cutting federal deficits to grow the economy is like applying leeches to cure anemia.

•A growing economy requires a growing supply of money (GDP = Federal Spending + Non-federal Spending + Net Exports)

•Deficit spending grows the supply of money

•The limit to federal deficit spending is an inflation that cannot be cured with interest rate control. The limit to non-federal deficit spending is the ability to borrow.

•Until the 99% understand the need for federal deficits, the upper 1% will rule.

•Progressives think the purpose of government is to protect the poor and powerless from the rich and powerful. Conservatives think the purpose of government is to protect the rich and powerful from the poor and powerless.

•The single most important problem in economics is the Gap between the rich and the rest.

•Austerity is the government’s method for widening the Gap between the rich and the rest.

•Everything in economics devolves to motive, and the motive is the Gap between the rich and the rest..

MONETARY SOVEREIGNTY