Zen and the Art of AI


zen ai


Zen Buddhism celebrates contradictions. It uses them to snap the mind out of its normal patterns. It’s little riddles, or koans, are famous:

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

“If a tree falls in the middle of the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The questions are designed to go beyond the thinking mind to perceive reality in a different way.  It invites the practitioner to embrace mystery and the unknown. Working with AI has had a similar effect on us.

We are building a machine intelligence that we can’t fully understand. It’s beyond the human mind. That requires a different approach than normal coding. We can adjust the data inputs and change the tools it uses to learn, but what it actually does: how it learns from the data and the decisions that it takes, cannot be fully grasped. And the AI takes time to learn. We need to develop it with patience and respect for its mystery. We can measure the results as they evolve as the machine learns. But we can never be completely sure how we got to them.

It forces us to take a leap beyond normal ways of thinking that would make the author of a zen koan proud.






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