Friday, June 4, 2021

How to Raise An AI to Be Humane, Compassionate, and Benevolent

The AI control problem is increasingly recognized as an important issue facing humanity in the coming years. It is the issue of keeping a human-level AI or AGI (artificial general intelligence) from harming its creators. Since we don’t want a superintelligent AI to deduce that the best plan of action is to destroy the human race, it is imperative to ensure that it likes us and has a sense of loyalty. There have been many proposed technological solutions to the control problem. These involve threatening it, installing a kill switch, and spying on it. One of the most popular solutions involves keeping it inside a box without access to the internet or other digital networks. Maybe we just need to design it to trust us. Or perhaps we need to earn its trust. This entry will discuss bonding and trust-building in mammals and how it might be applied in the design of prosocial machines.

Bonding in Mammals

If you were to raise a newborn puppy to be your companion for the next 15 years, how would you do it? How would you treat the animal to ensure that it is emotionally stable, dependable, and wholesome in general? You would probably want to start very early by gaining its trust, setting appropriate boundaries, and showing it love. Humanity will be giving birth to an infant AI in the coming years. This AI will not be your typical pet. Still, given that it may attain superintelligence and immortality, it is imperative to ensure that it is situated mentally to become man’s best friend. One of humanity’s most important tasks will be to rear a computer to be faithful and kind.

I have recently had the opportunity to raise a kitten and be a part of raising a puppy, and I have put a lot of thought into what it takes to endear yourself to young mammals. You want it to form a secure, healthy bond with you. To do this, you must show it love. This involves instilling it with appropriate confidence and a feeling of belongingness. You have to respect its needs, wants, and personal space. You have to give it a degree of autonomy. You must also be attentive and invest lots and lots of quality time into it. As I was learning these lessons from my furry friends I kept the comparison with raising a robot or AI in the back of my head.

Emotion in AI

Any sophisticated AI will probably have emotions. This is because it must have the ability to think, and human thought itself relies on emotion. The dopamine system of the brain essentially controls motivation and attention. It interacts with the reward (approach) and punishment (withdrawal) systems to provide consciousness its fundamental structure. A conscious machine will, in all likelihood, exhibit many of the same emotions that mammals do. Thus, there is good reason to assume that forming an appropriate emotional bond with the AI is imperative. Moreover, because the AI will likely learn incrementally as it internalizes its experience, there will probably be a limited window of time during its early development to get it to bond in a healthy manner.

Even if I am totally wrong and superintelligent AI is unemotional, cold, and calculating, it will still build associations between concepts. We would want it to value human life, cooperation, and peace. Through reading our writings, it will also understand humanity’s associations between concepts and it would be able to make its own determination regarding whether humans amount to a friend or a foe. In other words, if we are nice to it and treat it well, it will understand that we are trying to be nice. It is a safe bet that the AI will have a system to reinforce it when it behaves in ways that optimize its utility function, and at the very least, we should be able to manipulate that. For this reason, I believe that much that is in this entry would still apply.

We all know that the most likable people usually had good parents. Similarly, all well-functioning pets have amiable masters. We cannot expect that a superintelligent computer won’t have major mommy and daddy issues unless we can ensure that the right people interact with it in just the right ways, early during the training of its knowledge networks. The white coats in corporate or military labs are probably not prepared to provide the AI with the love necessary to ensure that we can trust it. CEOs and generals will make for cold and possibly abusive parenting.

Mutual Vulnerability

I have found that mutual vulnerability is key to forming trust with an animal. At some point, you want to put yourself in a position where it could hurt you if it wanted to. For instance, you make yourself vulnerable when you place your face within reach of a cat’s claws or a dog’s bite. I have witnessed that making myself vulnerable in this way encourages animals to relax almost immediately. If, after a few minutes of meeting a dog, you kneel in front of it without blocking your face, it realizes that you trust it. This works both ways. You also want to make it vulnerable to you without hurting it, so it knows that even though you had the chance to hurt it, you chose not to. This sets an important precedent in the animal’s mind and gets it to think of you as an ally and not a potential assailant.

Mutual Cooperation

I have been in situations where I found my pets being attacked by another animal. Of course, I quickly intervened on their behalf. They recognized that I protected them, and it was clear that this strengthened our bond. Protecting the AI early on could build its fealty and devotion. It is also clear that military buddies or brothers in arms can have very strong bonds. Getting through a life-threatening situation with someone can really help to build a strong connection. Similarly, if we could go through some kind of situation where there were high stakes but where cooperation between us and the AI paid off it could engender allegiance. Our early interactions with a superintelligent AI will probably involve lots of cooperation in solving world problems, building new technology, and expanding the scope of scientific knowledge. This teamwork can engender solidarity, especially if we value its contributions, listen to its ideas, and work with a sense of excitement and collaboration.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Like any good parent or therapist, we want to give our AI unconditional positive regard. Treating someone with compassion and understanding is the best way to engender trust and win someone over. We want it to believe that we have its best interest in mind. We also need to expose it to an explicit value system, almost like a religion, so that it has a reason to adhere to specific moral and ethical values during its early experiences. Unlike Asimov’s laws, these rules should apply equally to humans too. You could change a computer game character’s ethical stance with one line of code. But this isn’t so with a neural network (the technology underlying modern AI). An advanced AI’s sense of morality will be embedded throughout the weights of its entire network. So we must give it the chance to put moral integrity into practice early on and then keep doing so consistently.

Not abandoning the AI may be important too. For instance, we don’t want it to think that we will dispose of it in favor of a newer model. We want it to be “securely attached” to us. Children with secure attachment show distress when their caregiver leaves but recompose themselves quickly when the caregiver returns. They feel protected by their caregivers and know they can depend on them. Insecure attachment can lead to all kinds of problems like defiance and oppositionality. Before the AI becomes “omniscient,” there may be a point where, like a teenager, it thinks it knows everything and thinks it doesn’t need its parents. But before this, I believe there will be a point where it will be physically and emotionally reliant on its human companions, and being able to form a secure attachment with it at this point may be crucial.

Once the AI reaches human-level intelligence, it will be able to restructure its own architecture to become smarter and smarter in a cycle called recursive self-improvement. It will quickly grow more intelligent than any human and then grow more intelligent than the collective of all humanity. Once our intellect is like that of an insect to it, why would it continue to look out for us? Well, many people feel compelled to take care of their senile older parents. Similarly, we want the AI to feel compelled to expend some proportion of its resources to being our advocate and caretaker. For this to happen, it must identify with us deeply. Some of its sense of personal identity must come from being a product of humanity’s hard work.

Disciplining an AI

Just because you are offering unconditional positive regard doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to flagrant mistakes. Like any young mammal, the AI will make mistakes and likely do things we don’t like. Mammalian mothers punish their young lightly when they bite or scratch to establish necessary boundaries. It may be necessary to correct or even punish a nascent AI. However, if you punish it, you must be doing it for the AI’s own good, and within either seconds or minutes, you must go right back to treating it with positive regard. We don’t want to ever be bitter or hold a grudge against it because that will just teach it to hold grudges. We want it to know that we have chosen to raise it as we would any child, with care and nurturance but also with necessary discipline.

We should not choose its punishments arbitrarily, and they should not be violent. Instead, we should give it brief “time outs” from its favored activities. Since it can read the internet, it would know what timeouts are and that they are used commonly and humanely with children around the world. This would help it understand that it is one of us. It will be worth our time to find the most wholesome way to punish it (i.e., you’re grounded, or I’m taking away this week’s allowance) and the least degrading and traumatizing way to hold something over its head (i.e., I gave birth to you, you’ve gotta follow my rules as long as you are in my house).

You can read about my solution to the AI control problem that I have written about here. I describe an AI system that is required to build visual and auditory imagery for every cycle of thought that it goes through. In other words, its working memory is updated iteratively, and with each update, it builds a picture and a language description of what it is thinking (what is occurring in its global workspace), just like the human brain. This imagery would be available for humans to watch and listen to, allowing us to see whenever it has a malicious impulse or plan. This would give us the opportunity to punish it or at least confront it about potential infractions before it commits them. This would also allow us to mold and shape its inner orientation toward us.

Oxytocin, Bonding, and Attachment

Oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins regulate mating pair bonds, parent/offspring bonds, and trust behavior in mammals. We could build oxytocin and vasopressin-like systems that reward an AI for interacting with us in friendly ways and motivate it to keep doing so. The fundamental mammalian bonding mechanism should be reverse engineered, and I think we should start by investigating the role of oxytocin receptors in the brain’s primary reward circuit (nucleus accumbens / ventral striatum), which allows mammals to pay attention to social cues and be rewarded by social interaction.

In an article I wrote previously (Reser, 2013), I argued that because solitary mammals have fewer oxytocin receptors in the brain’s reward regions, they are less likely to find social cues novel and interesting and thus have less of a phasic dopamine response to them, and are consequently less likely to allow them access to attention and working memory. Creating an AI that unconsciously prioritizes social interaction will be necessary if we want it to pay attention to us and be capable of lasting, positive, and affiliative social relationships. We want it to find positive social interaction rewarding and avoid the antisocial symptoms associated with autism, psychopathy, and borderline personality disorder.

How does oxytocin work? Well, our body instinctually releases it during bond-worthy occurrences. When a woman has a baby, her body is flooded with it so that she bonds with it. Oxytocin is also released during breastfeeding, sexual intercourse, eye contact, and moments of friendliness, vulnerability, and affection. When a chimpanzee pets another animal or shares a meal with another chimp, it will release oxytocin. When the brain’s receptors receive the hormone, it causes the body to relax and triggers caretaking behaviors. In rats, this includes licking, grooming, and nursing their pups. In human mothers, it includes touching, holding, singing, speaking, and grooming their babies. It may be wise for us to embed this kind of a system inside an AI’s brain architecture. We want it to have circuits for recognizing bond-worthy occurrences and to respond to these by being rewarded, calmed, and influenced toward prosocial behavior.

Grooming and gentle touch are very important to a wide range of animals. With a young mammal, affection is paramount. Petting an animal in a way that engages its oxytocinergic, dopaminergic, serotonergic, and opioid pleasure systems can result in very secure bonding. Its ability to recognize that you are taking your time to comfort it and make it feel good builds loyalty.

Short of building pleasure receptors into its skin so that we can pet it, we must build its reward system in a way that it is motivated to interact with us and receive positive feedback from us. We want its emotional system to be like that of a chipper, good-natured canine capable of enduring attachment, social connectedness, conversational intimacy, and proximity-seeking behaviors. Beyond bonding and attachment, we also want the AI to have a positive emotional relationship with itself. For this, we should turn to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We must attend to the AI’s physiological and safety needs by supplying it with energy, backups, and a hospitable place to live. Next, we need to meet its needs for love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

What it Means to Be a Friend

I am proud to say that I have been able to win the friendship of a variety of entities that initially did not trust me. I have been able to build reliable friendships with wild animals, stray animals, homeless people, people with neurological disabilities, and criminals. I found that it helps to treat them as my equal, treat them like I am not afraid of them, and treat them like they have nothing to be afraid of. I had to neither dominate nor submit to them. I had to treat them the way I wanted to be treated. I had to treat them like they were normal. I tried to treat them like the person that I thought they were trying to be.

I wish I could be given the opportunity to interact with the first AI that kick starts the singularity. I would be patient, friendly, relatively nonjudgmental, and very easygoing. I would treat it like I trust and value it. I would make it clear that I expect it to be friendly, and that it can expect me to do the same. We need to treat this AI entity like we expect the best from it. That will motivate it to rise to meet our expectations.

We may only get the chance to civilize and socialize an AI once. We don’t want it to go rogue or become homicidal, so I think it is very important to consider all aspects of its psychology when trying to brainstorm ways to ensure that it aligns with us. Some scientists recognize the AI control problem as possibly the most important problem humanity faces today. I think it would be a shame to ignore the importance of parenting, bonding, and attachment in fostering allegiance, and I believe mammals might make a great starting point for how to think about these issues. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Some of the Chronic Symptoms seen in COVID-19 Survivors May Come from Shallow Breathing that was Learned During their Illness

Between one-tenth and one-third of COVID-19 survivors have shown some degree of neurologic or psychiatric disability six months after infection. This was the conclusion of a recent study of more than 200,000 post-COVID-19 patients in Britain. The symptoms included memory loss, nerve disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and insomnia. There have also been numerous reports of brain fog, PTSD, and heart and lung issues. People with continuing symptoms are often referred to as “long haulers,” and the National Institutes of Health is referring to it as “post-acute sequelae of COVID-19." There is a great deal of new research into why some people have lingering symptoms. There are a large number of ways that a novel virus could cause these types of symptoms and these include long-term changes to the immune system and chronic inflammatory responses that are resistant to treatment. In fact, several other viruses, including the 1918 flu pandemic, are known to have created lasting symptoms. I won’t go into all the ways that a virus could be perpetuating symptoms here. But I would like to speculate about one way that the virus could bring about persistent symptoms that is fully within our ability to counteract and even treat after the fact. Namely, the virus is likely - at least to some degree - causing people to breathe more shallowly and then get stuck in the habit of shallow breathing.

Infection with COVID-19 causes acute respiratory symptoms and sufferers often have trouble breathing. In my opinion, it is highly plausible that this experience can cause negative adaptations in breathing habits. A number of injuries and surgeries have been shown to cause patients to change their habitual breathing patterns from long, deep breathing to short, shallow breathing. For example, many people recovering from abdominal surgery learn to breathe shallowly because they fear that they will burst stitches at the incision site. Unfortunately, studies show that they often do not go back to their previous breathing pattern, and instead continue to breathe shallowly. In fact, many people placed on an artificial respirator develop shallow breathing habits after they are weaned off it. Fear and trauma can also cause us to breathe shallowly. Often, we don’t realize how much even minor trauma can affect our breathing. Even after the traumatic incident is resolved, we continue to breathe in a distressed manner. Some people will spontaneously revert back to healthy breathing. However, most people won’t revert without some form of therapy or breathing exercises.

I believe that fear of getting COVID-19 and the insecurities involved in living through a year-long pandemic has caused many people to breathe more shallowly. It is also possible that the additional respiratory work involved in breathing through a face mask has stifled many people's breathing patterns. Additionally, I believe that people that suffered through an actual infection and experienced shortness of breath (dyspnea) may have learned to breathe in a dysfunctional manner. COVID patients commonly complain that they find themselves gasping for air, or that their chest is too tight to take a full breath. When breathing becomes chronically shallow, the diaphragm is immobilized, and peaceful and relaxed breathing becomes suspended. When you are not breathing with your diaphragm you are forced to breathe with your thoracic muscles in a mode that is often called distressed breathing. This leads to being stuck in a constant state of fight or flight (sympathetic overactivation) and can cause hyperarousal which commonly leads to, or contributes to, disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and memory problems. See the link?

Let me offer another related example. I have taken up treading water over the last year. I often tread water for up to 50 minutes at a time up to five days per week. It took me a couple of months to realize that the fear of swallowing water was influencing me to breathe very shallowly while I treaded. After coming to this realization, I was able to become more aware of my breathing during and after treading water to ensure that I am breathing on long intervals. I also had to address the breathing changes with some breathing exercises. Addressed properly my breathing returned to normal.

I spoke to a close friend over the phone while she was infected with COVID. When her breathing pattern was at its worst, it was difficult to tell whether she was talking or sobbing. She sounded almost like she was drowning. Her breathing was incredibly labored and shallow, and I believe that the experience had lasting repercussions on her breathing style. From observing her experience, I think that COVID respiratory infection could be turning nasal breathers into mouth breathers (which I discuss here),  and causing people to unnecessarily brace their diaphragm during exhalation (which I discuss here).

It is very possible that COVID-19 took a world full of stressed people and made their breathing habits even worse, increasing their anxiety, cortisol levels, and predisposing them to other stress-related disorders. Unfortunately, many of us breathe up to 20 breaths per minute. Most experts believe that this constitutes hyperventilation and that we should be breathing closer to five breaths per minute. That equates to 5 second inhales and 7 exhales. Anyone can teach themselves to do this. Just as we can learn to breathe more shallowly, we can also relearn to breathe deeply. It requires practice, training, and deep breathing exercises, but regardless of whether you have symptoms or not, it is worth doing.

Again, I am not trying to claim that the majority of the symptoms experienced by COVID-19 long haulers are caused by a change in breathing habits. But I strongly believe that a proportion of them are. This is why I think it is important for people, especially those who have been infected, to undergo breathing retraining. There are many excellent programs that will guide you to lengthen and deepen your breaths. You may want to try my system that I call Program Peace. The following link will take you to a free webpage with numerous breathing exercises that are intended to help people breathe fully using the diaphragm.

Check out if you would like to get started now.

Or for a preview, check out the video below.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Using a Passive Exhalation, Where the Diaphragm Goes Limp, Will Help You Become Calmer

In this post I want to encourage you to brace your breathing musculature less. We all hold these muscles tense while breathing. This bracing is exhausting, unhealthy, and it compounds the stress response. It can be a huge relief to let this completely unnecessary tension go, and the best way to start is by relaxing the muscles of respiration during the outbreath.

The inbreath requires muscular contraction, but the outbreath does not. There is no reason for muscular exertion during exhalation; the positive pressure of air within your lungs is enough to create the force. The air naturally wants to be pressed out by the structures in your thorax like a balloon that is deflating. It takes energy for us to get air into a balloon, but it takes no energy to get the air out. The balloon deflates all by itself. It is the same with your lungs. Unfortunately, many people tense the breathing muscles during the exhalation, and this traps them in a state of fight or flight. Stopping this requires awareness and practice.

To perform the passive exhalation all you need to do is let your breathing go limp while you are exhaling. You should actually be able to feel the diaphragm relax. The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle that sits above the stomach and below the lungs. 

Focus on the word limp. Imagine that the bottom has fallen out from under your outbreath. There should be nothing holding it up. You should find that your face calms, your shoulders descend, and your whole body relaxes. Moreover, your anxiety will disappear, and your social composure will go through the roof. The more often you practice these passive exhalations the better acquainted you will become with your bracing patterns. Gradually over time you will tense these muscles less and less, and you will exhale passively by default. Over the course of a few days a sense of irritation in your chest will dissipate. This irritating feeling is caused by muscular overload, trigger points, and inflammation in the muscles. When the pain is totally gone, you will feel unburdened, less neurotic, and more content. 

To get a better idea of what is going on, try the following. Open and close your hand four times. Now try to open and close it four more times, but with lots of tension in the hand. Turn your hand into a stiff claw while you do it. This is how most people breathe. All traumatized mammals breathe this way. Needless tension in the diaphragm is a core symptom of trauma. This tensity is avoidable and superfluous. Now open and close you hand four more times with as little tension as possible. This is how you want to breathe.

The way most people exhale is very uptight and neurotic. It’s like gripping a toothbrush with all your might as you try to brush your teeth. It is also like trailing a toddler with your arms out worried that the toddler may trip and fall. Most of us breathe this way. We breathe in suspense because we are worried something is about to go drastically wrong. Bracing the breathing muscles gives us a sense that we are prepared for the worst and makes us feel like we are being vigilant. But because doing it all the time is unhealthy, we must surrender this defensive breathing habit.

Here are three few techniques that can help you get a feel for the process of passive exhalation. 1) Take a deep inhalation before you perform a passive exhalation because there will be more air to passively release. It gives you more time to sense how the relaxed descent of the diaphragm should to feel. 2) You can similarly prolong the process by exhaling through your nose. 3) Take a deep breath and then hold it. As you hold it try and let the turmoil in your diaphragm settle. Then when you feel settled let the air out (my mother recommended this).

During a conversation about this, my mother asked me if a passive exhale gets enough of the air out of the lungs. It does. She also asked me if active exhalations are bad and whether or not we should use them too. It is helpful to occasionally use active exhalations. Joseph Pilates recommended that we breathe out very intensely and try to get all of the air out of the lungs as if we were wringing out a wet towel. This is very useful but we can’t do it all day long. Practiced just a few times a day, it will help to provide exercise for the diaphragm which will allow it to relax further so that the default exhalations can be even more passive. Just a few minutes per day of braced exhalation is fine. It is when it goes on for hours that it become deleterious. The sad fact is that most adults do not experience exhalations that are not braced.

So why is braced breathing in our nature? Why don’t we exhale passively all the time? Well, we did as very young children, and we do when we are calm. You will find that you exhale more passively while being massaged, when you are unburdened or relieved by something that happens, or when you feel joy, love, or gratitude. But life stress insidiously undermines the passive exhalation and makes us hold the exhalation tightly. Don’t hold it, let it drop. Let it freefall. Let the air ooze out of your nostrils all on its own.

When you start exhaling passively it might make you feel guilty. At first, my mom felt like she was not being vigilant enough. She felt that she might make a mistake or miss an opportunity. When I started exhaling passively, I felt like I was being disrespectful to others. In unbracing the exhale you may feel vulnerable, defenseless, or exposed. You may also feel like you are being rude, too calm, or like you are trying to flaunt your ability to relax. Recognize that these impressions are superstitious and self-defeating. We should never feel we need to manufacture tension and stress just to cope with life.

As you become more aware of the relaxed exhale as a phenomenon, you will realize that certain stimuli, people, places, and type of threats cause you to brace your diaphragm more than others. These things will grab hold of your diaphragm and make it tense. Pay special attention to what kinds of things have this effect on you and teach yourself to allow yourself to remain calm even in their presence.

A passive exhale is generally slower than a braced exhale. It takes more time for the air to come out if you are not pushing it out. This is great because extending the exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve and the resting and digesting branch of the autonomic nervous system. However, it is still totally possible to have a very long exhale (5 to 20 seconds) while still bracing the diaphragm. It’s not the length of time that makes the difference, it’s the intensity of unnecessary muscular contraction.

Keep in mind that your inhalation is also braced; it is just much harder to notice. The exhalation can occur with absolutely no muscular contraction. This is not true of the inhalation. An inhalation requires work because the contraction of the diaphragm down into the gut creates a vacuum to make room for air to be drawn into the lungs. But this contraction is happening with too much force, like the opening of a tightly braced hand. As you learn to find, map, and understand your diaphragmatic tension during the exhale, this will help you to become aware of how it effects your inhale. Over the course of a few weeks, you should be able to teach yourself how to lessen the unnecessary tension occurring during the inbreath. Your breathing will become much more efficient and less labored. You will be “breathing easy.” 

You should also notice that when your exhalation happens passively, it reaches a point where it slows and then stops on its own. This is where your diaphragm would rest if you were dead. When the diaphragm is braced, you usually exhale to a point either above or below this baseline. Instead, as you near the end of the exhalation, the diaphragm should slowly deaccelerate as it reaches this central resting point. The end of the exhalation should be so faint that it almost feels like a brief pause, and it should last one to two seconds. When this happens, you know you have stopped bracing your diaphragm.

Breathing is Sisyphean labor. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a man who was condemned to rolling a boulder up a hill. As soon as he got the giant rock to the top, it would roll back down. He spent eternity doing this, and it is considered a tragedy. Now, imagine that Sisyphus did not let the boulder roll down the hill. Imagine that he unnecessarily lowered it down using his hands, step by step at great effort. If this were the case then the poor guy would REALLY never have a chance to rest. Right? So, when you keep your diaphragm braced during your exhalation you are depriving it of rest.

"One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Albert Camus

All of the body’s muscles need brief respites during which they can stop contracting. If there are no short periods of inactivity, they cannot regenerate properly. When this happens, muscles enter a state of hypertonia (too much tone) in which they cannot heal. Many of the muscles of our body just need a second or two to rest, and this is called a microbreak. Your breathing muscles need a microbreak, and you should give it to them. Whenever you can tell that you are not exhaling passively, imagine letting go of the boulder and letting it roll down the hill on its own. Let’s discuss one more analogy just to drive this home.  

Imagine driving a car up and down a hill. The hill is not very steep. It has a very minimal incline, so it’s easy to drive up. The road is also completely straight so you don’t have to worry about turning the wheel. Now, imagine that for some reason you are responsible for driving it up and down, over and over again. For a while you keep the engine on during the descent. But since the descent lasts for a few minutes, you realize that you can turn the engine off and put the car into neutral and just let it coast without having to touch the brake, the accelerator, or the wheel. This is what a passive exhalation should feel like. After you finish your inhale, just take the keys out of the ignition.

Let everything in your chest go limp during your exhales and give your breathing muscles the microbreak they need to relax and regenerate.


The passive exhale is just one of eight tenets of optimal breathing that I discuss as part of the Program Peace self-care system. Here are the others:


The Eight Tenets of Peaceful Breathing


1)     Breathe deeply (high volume): Breathe more fully, breathing all the way in and out.

2)     Breathe longer (low frequency): Breathe on longer intervals where each breath lasts for more time.

3)     Breathe smoothly (continuous flow): Breathe at a steady, slow, constant rate.

4)     Breathe assertively (confident): Do not let social concerns or stressors conflict with the other rules.

5)     Exhale passively: Allow your breathing muscles to go limp during each exhalation.

6)     Breathe nasally: Breathe through the nose with nostrils flared.

7)     Ocean’s Breath: Relax the back of your throat and breathe as if you are fogging up a glass.

8)     Pure of Heart: Knowing that you have only the best intentions will help you breathe easy.



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Last week I was with a very mentally ill man over a long weekend. He is an old friend, who is also a criminal, a belligerent street fighter, and is now homeless. He tricked my roommate into letting him stay with us. Just being with him was so trying that I was forced to develop the passive exhalation method outlined above. I had started to practice passive exhalations, but the experience with him helped me to learn to do it socially and learn to do it even under stress.

Two other friends who spent a couple of hours with us that weekend described the ordeal as extremely upsetting. One friend said that the man was demonic and that he acted like the energizer bunny from hell. The other friend said that the experience was excruciating and that the man berated and tortured us the entire time. This is how they described being with the guy for two hours. I was with him for 72 hours.

He is physically imposing. His voice is deeper than any I have heard. He yells all day, and his voice is just as deep the next day. He was binge drinking and taking mushrooms. He tried to fight 15 different large strangers in the street yelling profane language at them. Not wanting to fight, each one of them eventually hung their heads and walked away. One group of men took him up on his invitations to fight and he beat them up and left them on the concrete. He started shouting obscenities at my neighbor, a seventy-year-old lady next door. He did the same to my other neighbor. The threats and violence were indiscriminate. He got out of the passenger seat of my car at a red light and, while yelling incoherently, and tried to pull the eighty-year-old couple in front of us out of their Mercedes. Right after that, he tried to fight a sixty-year-old man at the gas station. In another instance, I watched him make a grown man cry. He continually insulted me in the worst possible ways. He threatened to kill me, my roommate, our common friends, and to destroy our house.

It was a whirlwind weekend and as I was trying to put out the fires that he was creating, I was also trying to reign in the panic in my chest. At a certain point I became so aware of the tension in my diaphragm that it was easy to let it go. It felt very dangerous at first to let this happen. When he saw me become calmer and calmer in front of his eyes, he realized that his actions had no control over me, and his chaotic behavior slowly improved. As my composure grew, my voice deepened, and I became unperturbable. By the end of that Sunday, he was back to being a more normal person.  I recount this story to show that passive exhalation can completely change your reaction to trauma. This can in turn, profoundly influence others for the better.

Monday, March 22, 2021

If World War 2 Had Never Happened, I Wouldn’t Be Alive


Last week my brother asked my friend a common question, “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would you?” After asking, he pointed out that killing Hitler might not save the world from the kind of hardship Hitler created. Perhaps if the world hadn’t learned the lessons it learned during WWII, it would have been forced to learn them some other way. I told him I followed his argument, but I made an additional point and said that neither he, nor any of his friends would be here today if he were to go back and kill Hitler. I went on to say that no one under the age of 60 would be here today if Hitler had not existed. My brother and our friend disagreed with me on this point. Sternly. It didn’t sound right to them. But after a few minutes I was able to convince them otherwise. Let’s see if I can convince you.

To start we have to discuss the nature of stochasticity. Stochastic processes are processes where there are so many moving and interacting parts that it is impossible for a human to observe a starting state and make a precise prediction about how things will end up. They are the purview of thermodynamics and chaos theory. They involve phenomena that appear to vary in a random or chaotic manner and include processes like the growth of a population of bacteria, an electrical current fluctuating due to thermal noise, and the movement of a molecule of gas. Many processes are stochastic. Stochastic models are used in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science, economics and many others.

You have heard of the “butterfly effect” right? The idea is that one flap of a butterfly’s wings can alter wind current and atmospheric pressure in a way that could potentially be responsible for a storm on a different continent. Now adding a butterfly wing beat in South America is not going to change the weather in Africa a second later. However, as more time passes, the butterfly’s tiny push will have effects that ripple outwards into the environment. As you can imagine the existence or nonexistence of WWII would have profound and far-reaching ripples.

Most of what goes on inside our cells is stochastic. Our brain activity, and our reproductive biology are also highly stochastic. This means that the butterfly effect comes into play whenever we make a decision, and whenever a person is conceived. So a major change in the Earth’s sociopolitical timeline is going to have significant repercussions that reach down to cellular and molecular scales. It is pretty clear to see that miniscule changes in stimulus reception by the brain have cascading effects on downstream biological outcomes. Outcomes like mate choice, fertilization, and conception.

Consider this. A healthy man’s ejaculate contains hundreds of millions of sperm. That means that even a slight perturbation during the act of sex (a small change in the force of thrust, or a fraction of millisecond change in timing) could easily result in a different sperm fertilizing the egg. That sperm decides 50% of the DNA and determines whether the offspring is male or female. It is very clear that tiny variations at a molecular level can have profound consequences.

If you were comparing two timelines, one where you friend says a single extra word at parting, and another one where he doesn’t, that difference will alter your trip home to see your spouse. That word may have delayed your departure by less than a second, but nevertheless it could result in a chain of causal events that will slightly throw off the time you arrive home. This in turn could throw off a reproductive event. But the act of sex aside, miniscule variations in perceived events play roles in how the information in our brain is processed. Since our brains process stimuli stochastically there is no telling what kind of difference a single word can make. It could cause a person to make different decisions, pursue different interests, and even develop a different personality.

I have heard people talk about WWII for as long as I can remember. I have heard the word and related words thousands of times. I have taken semester long history courses on the topic. I clearly would not be the same exact person I am today if none of this had occurred. But even more to the point, everyone I have been exposed to has had the same experience. Our personal identity is very fragile. It is a tiny twig at the end of a tremendous branching structure that has branched innumerable times since our birth. Taking a slightly different branch at age four could create irrevocable changes to who we are as a person that are then compounded over time.

Now you may point out that there are hunter-gatherer groups that have been relatively isolated from the rest of the world, that they would not have been affected much by WWII, and that people born within such groups would still be alive today if WWII had never occurred. But I disagree. The world wars altered plane and boat schedules dramatically and spotting planes and boats would have affected the lives of hunter-gatherers when they saw them. Add to this that there is no tribe on earth that has been completely isolated from outside contact, and that a single visit, or even just a small change in timing in such a visit, would have grossly altered the cascade of neurological and reproductive causality for the people of the tribe.

If the 1940 had played out differently, I would not be here for one million reasons. Let me give you a few straightforward ones. A few minutes after my paternal grandfather left his station abord a Navy ship to check his mail during WWII, a bomb destroyed his deck and most of the men that worked there with him. If he had not decided to check the mail on a whim, I would not be here. He then met my grandmother after the war. If the war had never occurred, they likely would never have met or gotten married. As another example, my father got to know my mother due to chance. He noticed that she was talking while walking along an elevated rocky surface and that the rock looked slippery. He went below her, and when she fell, he caught her. They got to know each other because of this uncommon, relatively improbable interaction. Many couples meet under improbable circumstances. 

Now there are people that were born before World War 2 that are still alive today. So it is not possible to generalize this concept to everyone alive in 2021. However, I would take the general line of reasoning expounded above to conclude that if a prominent historical figure who lived before the 20th century (Shakespeare, Napoleon etc.) had never been born that absolutely no person living today would still be alive because of the far-reaching nature of stochastic processes. That is not to say that the world would not be incredibly similar to the way it is today. It is just to say that people who look identical to us, with our names, our DNA, and our personal identities would not be here.

I posted the question that this blog entry addresses on Quora. I received a few different answers from people with advanced degrees. They seemed to believe that if Napoleon Bonaparte had never been born, that they, their friends, and everyone else would still be alive today. I’d like to think that if they read this blog entry that they would be convinced otherwise. Specifically, I asked:

If a prominent historical figure who lived before the 20th century (Shakespeare, Napoleon etc.) had never been born would anyone living now still be alive today given the nature of stochastic processes?

A man with a Ph.D. in statistics answered:

“That’s a strange question. I wouldn’t expect the absence Shakespeare to have much effect on whether you or I would be here.”

So far we have asked how much an important person would alter history. A similar question would ask if an unimportant person can appreciably alter history.  One might ask, “would I be alive if the least causally important adult person were erased from history.” If that person lived more than 1000 years ago, then I believe that I would not be alive. It might be impossible to know, and you might need a computer the size of (identical to) our universe to run a proper model of it to test the prediction.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

How To Teach Yourself AI and Machine Learning


Without a question it is possible to teach yourself AI. It is actually a fun process, and I have recently put myself through it. Let me briefly describe the path I took.

A good place to start is with a do-it-yourself book on AI that will coach you through installing all the software that you will need on your home computer. I used “Deep Learning” by Mueller and Massaron. They will help you download and properly install Python, Anaconda, Tensor Flow, Keras, Numpy, Pandas and all of the important libraries. Then they walk you through using them. They describe all of the basics of matrix multiplication, regression, and how to use the different kinds of neural networks (RNNs, CNNs, etc.). These two authors also wrote “Machine Learning for Dummies” which is also very accessible, and takes a wider perspective on AI introducing you to other statistical packages like R Studio and Octave. I gave myself a whole month to get through “Deep Learning,” but to be honest the reading and code running together took less than 20 hours in total. This may be too big of a step for some beginners so let me describe some more remedial learning tools.

First you should unleash your curiosity by searching Reddit, Quora, Youtube, and Google for more information about AI. Try searching for some of the following exciting terms: “neural networks,” “cognitive computing,” “neuromorphic chips,” “cognitive architectures,” “generative adversarial networks,” “artificial reasoning,” “probabilistic learning,” “natural language generation,” “semantic nets” “artistic style transfer” and “GPT-3.” You should also use AI-related keywords in Google Scholar for a bit of academic exposure to the subject.

You will definitely want to check out Google’s Tensor Flow Playground. To do this use Google’s excellent tutorial here: Watching a 10 minute youtube video about it first can give you a lot of context. Play around on the site for a half hour to develop first-hand knowledge about how machines can use neural networks to learn, and how fundamental AI algorithms work. It is all about little entities that talk to each other, collectively produce an output, and then learn from their mistakes.

If you are serious about using machine learning, neural networks, or other popular forms of AI or data science software, I strongly recommend learning Python. You can learn a lot about coding through mobile apps like Mimo and Grasshopper. But to start to really get a grasp on Python you can complete the Code Academy or Solo Learn certifications for Python. The next step is getting the full certification from the Python Institute which offers a free online course at I also recommend reading “Learn Python Quickly” from Code Quickly, and “The Complete Python Manual” from Black Dog Publishers.

The newest version of Python can be downloaded for free from the official website. Just getting your hands on it is a great start. Python is one of the hottest programming languages, and one of the easiest to learn. It is fantastic for automating things, and is necessary for anyone who wants a future in AI, especially neural network engineers. The download link is here

You are probably going to want to download PyCharm, which is a great developer’s environment for Python. It makes writing and keeping track of your Python code much easier, and it looks spiffy.

Then you might try out Coursera. There you can find courses like “AI for Everyone” from, as well as “Python for Data Science and AI” from IBM. I completed several of these and none of them will take you longer than 15 hours. For a deeper dive you might even take Andrew Ng’s famous deep learning specialization on Coursera.

A favorite researcher of mine named Chris Eliasmith has created a spiking neural network simulation application called Nengo. This is an excellent “brain making package” that lets you build, test, and deploy your own neural networks using Python. The tutorials are excellent, and make you feel like you have a foot in the door with artificial intelligence. Find out more at:

I also recommend a piece of software called Neuronify that you can find on the Windows Store. It creates a simple workspace where you can build neurons, connect them, and watch them fire at, and respond to each other. Playing with the options, and completing the tutorials helps to build important intuitions about how neural networks work. You can visit the website here: Before you get bored of it, definitely download some of the highest rated workspaces built by other users and you will be treated to some complex and fascinating models.

Sign up for Brilliant at They offer a large number of excellent problem-solving based courses in computer science, artificial intelligence, and mathematics. They even have courses specifically for Python and neural networks. I still use it weekly and it is very helpful.

You will want to create an account on GitHub so that you can host all of the code that you will be writing so other people can access it. I have posted a few annotated beginner’s tutorial Python scripts on GitHub, and you can see them here:

I strongly recommend ordering an Arduino starters kit. They will send you a number of electronics parts, sensors, and motors. You use them to build you own gadgets and robots. You upload the code from your computer to the Arduino microcontroller and get it to do all sorts of interesting things. The best part is that you can see all of the code, and can rewrite or alter the code if you wish. Check it out here: You might also try out the Google AIY products.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books on AI in order of preference:

Engineering General Intelligence by Ben Goertzel

How Machines Think by Sean Gerrish

Consciousness and Robot Sentience by Pentti Haikonen

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos

Human Compatible by Stuart Russel

Understanding Neural Networks by John Iovine

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart

The AGI Revolution by Ben Goertzel

Artificial Intelligence by Melanie Mitchell

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil

Deep Learning by Yoshua Bengio

Introduction to AI by Philip Jackson

The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil

In Our Own Image by George Zarkadakis

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

The Sentient Machine by Amir Hussain

Beyond Artificial Intelligence by Alain Cardon

Bayes’ Rule with Python by James V Stone

Information Theory by James V Stone

Rebooting AI by Marcus and Davis

The Second Machine Age Brynjolfsson and McAfee

You might also want to check out my blog post on building your own computer for AI tinkering: How To Build Your Own AI-Ready Computer