On Orderly Coincidence vs Artificial Intelligence

A few days ago, this November, one of those I follow shared a tweet by journalist, Mercy Abang, in which she said that the best Nigerian historian was Max Siollun.

Actually, the tweet shared by this person I follow was a tweet quoting Ms Abang’s, asking her to read Prof Toyin Falola, that he too was a good enough historian. I cannot remember now who it was that shared the tweet quoting and replying Abang’s; perhaps it was Seun Onigbinde, the lead partner of the civic organisaiton, BudgIT, because about a day after, while going through my timeline, I saw a tweet by Mr Onigbinde saying that he was reading Prof Falola’s “The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic”. He, Seun, was wondering why Nigeria always knew how to identify its problems but never how to solve them.

This past Friday, our Professor began what should have been a class on sample distribution in quantitative statistics with a digression on the history of the relationship between the Ooni of Ife and the Oba of Lagos. This discussion, which I enjoyed and found illuminating, also took us to Benin in an attempt to analyze the history and origins of the western traditional/religious palaces. Yes, the old did Ife originate from Benin or vice versa argument. The spur for this conversation was the event of Oba Akiolu apparently shunning the handshake of the Ooni, Oba Oguwusi, and our professor had written about it in a top newspaper at the time. We debated much about Oguwusi trying to be a modern Oba and that his preaching in Churches was not against his expected worship of Eledunmare.

Now, yesterday – or was it the same Friday after class? – I went on twitter again lazily searching through my timeline. Lo, someone, I think it was Feyi Fawehinmi, retweeted a tweet which asked if traditional institutions were still relevant in this country. Seeing this and remembering the conversation in class flashed my mind to the article I read in the Punch newspapers of October 26 in which the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe, and other royal fathers gathered in a conference deliberated the value of their institutions in modern times. Embedded in that tweet retweeted by Mr Fawehinmi (@DoubleEph) querying traditional institutions was a picture of – wait for it – Oba Oguwusi apparently bowing a bit as he shook hands with the Jagaban, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Of course Mr Tinubu does not hold a religious/traditional honour anywhere near the league of the Ooni’s and in any case – as our professor so strenuously wrote in that article and re-emphasized in class – the Ooni does not shake hands!

But the point of this piece is not to treat of royal protocol, neither is it to tell you how lazy I am on twitter. If you will bear a little more, I will tell one more story before explaining myself well, if the title does not already tell you where I am headed.

Again, sometime in the past week, I drifted into a thought about a particular advertisement which I had being seeing regularly online but had not seen for a while. I will not name the particular product or service but it is of a media company. I thought to myself for few seconds that I had not seen this ad, wondering if the new company had closed shop already, and the thought passed. After a few hours, I went online to read news on a blog without this thought still conscious in me. What do I see amidst the text of the news story in this blog (which I did not so consciously choose to go to but followed a link to the story I found on twitter)? Believe me, I saw this advertisement that I had thought of a few hours before. I shared this on twitter as a reply to a tweet thread by someone who was sharing another person’s experience of seeing ads about cream products on Facebook after this person had finished a phone conversation about skin care with another person. Apparently facebook does not only rely on your Google searches to feed you ads but also your microphone recordings, but that’s matter for another article.

You should get it now; I’m pondering intelligence. Conscious versus coincidental, artificial versus articulated.

The age of artificial intelligence is upon us. This will be the epoch when machines learn things by being repeatedly exposed to them and trained to predict them. When the fullness of the age of Internet of Things (IoT) arrives, every iota that can be electronically powered around us will understand each other and literally speak to our thoughts and desires seamlessly through the learning and understanding of big data.

But is this – the interconnectedness of thoughts – necessarily a new phenomenon? Did this already exist before the age of technology? Were humans already connected in thoughts at different times and places? For instance, was it merely coincidental that when Isaac Newton discovered the laws of calculus, those same laws were also discovered independently at the same time by Gottfried Leibniz, leading to what is now called the “priority dispute”? My limited intelligence and knowledge of history does not give me other examples of simultaneous discoveries but I know they exist. Were they all coincidences or was there Intelligence behind the original and naturally powered IoT, the Interconnection of Thoughts?

If there was, what was this Intelligence? How Magnanimous (i.e. high-minded) and All-Knowing was It to be able to order and organize so many or all thoughts simultaneously in different places? Artificial Intelligence will be facilitated by rapid movements aided by electricity, but before the age of science, nothing material could move quite so rapidly as to order thoughts between distant locations. So how did this Intelligence do it? It does not move? Does It still exist and does It still order thoughts?

If yes, well, how do we not hear more often about this Intelligence which, being non-material, can do things quite so impressive? I should not bore readers with stories of my past times on twitter or my lectures but something I heard, today, about an Infinitely Intelligent being kind of made me think about all of these.

And as I think about life and matter, time (what is time?) and existence, coincidences and accidents, henceforth, I will consider it worthwhile thinking about them in light of this Intelligence, whose thought is One and whose perfections, infinte.

Thank you, Fr Pius.


By Alexander O. Onukwue | First published on Facebook, with some modifications here.

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