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The Unconscious v Artificial Intelligence: Transformation of the Personality and the Algorithm

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

This blog is the most enjoyable, and I would even go as far as to say, the most meaningful, of all the topics that I have explored so far in the blog-series, 'The Unconscious v Artificial Intelligence'. I often ask myself, 'What is the purpose of XYZ?' in both my personal and profession life. Whilst I love to enjoy life, there is also a part of me that also seeks purpose and meaning in both my personal and professional endeavours. As my career as a freelance management consultant has matured, I tend to associate myself, and work better, with organisations that go beyond profits, that aim to bring a deeper sense of purpose and meaning to society and even humanity in general. In case you are wondering....yes it is a tough challenge to find companies that have a 'meaningful' vision and mission statement but they do exist - and it helps that they are an exciting company too!


In my personal and professional life, my values brings a great deal of discernment to my relationships with others. By this I mean that I prefer relationships based on shared values of respect for others, autonomy, independence, freedom, teamwork, valuing differentiation and personal transformation. I absolutely love to see people develop themselves and to find their place in this complex world that we live in. So this notion of purpose and meaning has led me to ask myself three questions about psychoanalysis, and AI in general.

Question 1

What is the ultimate goal of psychoanalysis, and AI?

Question 2

Question 3

These are the questions that I explore in my latest blog, 'The Unconscious v Artificial Intelligence: Transformation of the Personality and the Algorithm', part of a series of blogs that explores the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace and provides a comparative analysis of AI and psychology from a uniquely Jungian or analytical psychology perspective.


The pursuit for transformation is a common feature in psychoanalytic and AI work. So you might say there is a pursuit for psychological transformation in psychoanalysis and a pursuit for technological transformation in AI. Psychoanalysis has as its aims of transforming the perspective, attitudes and behaviour of an individual. Digital technology aims to transform AI by developing machines that can think humanly, act humanly, think rationally, and act rationally. Let's take a closer look at the processes of transformation within the context of the psyche and AI.

 

Symbolism of the Helmet Sensor and Headdress of Eagle Feathers

I came across these photographs on two separate occasions. The first photograph is an engineer wearing a helmet sensor, part of a brain scanner, at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was taken by Robert Clack, National Geographic Image Collection.


The second photograph is an Amazonian resident Adao Yawanawá in the village of Nova Esperança, Rio Gregório, Yawanawá Indigenous Territory, state of Acre, Brazil. He is wearing a Yawanawa tribal headdress of eagle feathers. It is my own photo of the original by Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado which was on display at a recent Salgado exhibition in Zurich.


The two photos juxtaposed together brought a great sense of excitement to me when I conceived of the idea that the images both perfectly symbolise the blog-series, 'The Unconscious v Artificial Intelligence'.


From a Jungian psychological perspective, the images symbolise two different attitudes in a single, unifying symbolic image. However, there is a distinct difference in the nature of each image. The engineer is oriented to the outer world, #extraversion in psychological terms, or an orientation to an outer object - AI. The Yawanawá man is oriented to the inner world, #introversion in psychological terms, or an orientation to an inner object - the unconscious.

 

The Great Divide

The human psyche is divided into two realms known as #consciousness and #unconscious. The analogy of the iceberg is often used to visualise the basic structure of the psyche. The part of the iceberg that is visibly protruding out of the water represents 'consciousness', and the 'unconscious' remains hidden in the water.

Each of us has an awareness of our conscious mind and unconscious through a commonly known psychological function - the #ego which resides in consciousness and has the ability to reflect upon itself, like the iceberg's reflection on the surface of the water. The ego plays an important and critical role in the overall function of the psyche. It provides us with our own sense of personal identity, or a sense of who we are as an individual. The ego is responsible for maintaining the personality over our lifetime, for cognition, and for reality testing or the capacity to distinguish between our inner world or mental images and the external world, between fantasy and external reality, and corrects our inner or subjective impressions by reference to external or objective facts.


The ego is also responsible for mediating our interactions between our conscious and unconscious realms and is seen as responsive to something greater or superior than itself, the whole psyche. The ego is just a small part of who we are. We are not just the visible part of the iceberg, we are also the hidden part of the iceberg. The entire iceberg represents the #Self, the ordering principle of the entire personality or the unity of the human psyche - conscious and unconscious. The relation of the Self to the ego is often compared to that of 'the mover to the moved', it is in a central position of authority in the psyche and can have a significant impact, conscious or unconscious, on the personality of an individual. The ego is therefore seen as something less than the whole personality or the Self. Some people without an awareness of the psychological concept of the Self might refer to it as 'their higher self'.


The ego usually develops at the start of life, when it is merged with the Self but then differentiates from it during the course of a child's psychological development. It arises out of a clash between a child's bodily limitations and the external word. For example, a child's frustrations with their experiences in the outer world create islets of ego-consciousness which coalesce into the eventual ego. A child's ego can usually be seen in their third or fourth year, however, there is an element of an ego structure from birth. The ego is therefore the culmination of an individual's experiences with the outer world, however, there may well be some genetic or hereditary features to the structure of the ego.


Consciousness is the distinguishing characteristic of the ego but this is proportional to unconsciousness. The greater the degree of ego-consciousness, the greater the possibility of sensing the unconscious. The ego's role is to recognise the unconscious and integrate its contents into consciousness which then enhances or enlarges the personality. The Self provides the ego with a more holistic view of inner and outer reality, and it is therefore the function of the ego to work with the Self by challenging or fulfilling its demands.


The outer world is subject to temporal and spatial constraints. The ego relates to the outer world within a tightly constrained framework of sensual perception and rational judgement. The inner world is not constrained by space, time, or practical reason. The ego relates to the inner world through loosely constrained, ethereal images, ideas and ideals (Jung's Indispensable Compass, James G Johnston). The outer world, supported by concrete perceptions, is often considered more real than the inner world, but in psychoanalytic-based psychology, the inner world is every bit as real and legitimate. Perceptions of inspirations, images and ideals are just as real as perceptions of a building, sunset, water or plant.


The ego orients to both the inner and outer world, however, individuals are usually drawn to one orientation more than the other as part of their unique ego development. Some people prefer introversion while others have a preference for extraversion. A person who prefers introversion will place greater trust in dreams, possibilities, imagination, and inspiration, compared to a person who prefers extraversion, they will place greater trust in facts, traditions, concrete experience, and practical issues.


A useful way to visualise introversion and extraversion is to refer to them as orientations on a compass. The inner world representing the unconscious which contains dreams, images, ideas, and ideals to the north. The more tangible, earthbound external world representing consciousness orients to the south. Jung referred to these orientations as the inner object and outer object, creating the image below, 'The Great Divide' in Consciousness.

'The Great Divide' (adapted from Jung's Indispensable Compass, James G Johnston) is a distinguishing feature of the Unconscious v AI. From an unconscious perspective, the individual's ego interactions with the psyche is introverted. Let's go back to the image of Adao Yawanawá. What does the headdress of eagle feathers symbolise to the Yawanawá people? From a psychological perspective, the headdress is the product of interaction with the psyche and the unconscious with its visceral contents which shape values, beliefs, customs, identity, traditions, culture and religion. What is the function of the helmet sensor? It is a technological gadget with a seemingly practical purpose to scan brain activity to deepen our understanding of the brain and its processes. Its function is extraverted in the sense that the engineer is trying to better understand the activity of the mind with the purpose of replicating it within a machine.


The ego is therefore a function which can orient itself to both introversion and extraversion. But this is not straightforward - orientation can go both ways too. The ego creates an external object, a technological gadget or headress made of eagle feathers, as part of its engagement with the inner world and vice versa. The engineer is oriented to an inner world for the benefit of an external world (science) and/or to learn more about himself as an engineer. The Yawanawá man is oriented to an inner world for the benefit of an external world (the tribe) and to himself as an individual. Not so much a great divide, but an integration of both introversion and extraversion.

 

The Singularity v The Self


The Singularity 'Technological Wholeness'

The work of the AI engineer cuts across this 'The Great Divide' of introversion and extraversion. Several actors are involved in the development of the AI algorithm: the AI engineer's ego, consciousness, unconscious mind, AI algorithm and the neural network. An algorithm is a process or set or rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. Algorithms are essential to the way AI processes data and makes decisions. The algorithm is visible to the AI engineer, in fact, they may even be responsible for the creation and ongoing development of the algorithm. The neural network is not entirely visible to the AI engineer, and arguably it is the 'unconscious' of the algorithm.


A popular approach to AI is machine learning which uses neural nets in which many small artificial neurons are connected in complex networks. Each neuron takes inputs from its neighbours and generates an output depending on certain numeric weights associated with these inputs. The output will then in turn influence the neuron's neighbours. By adjusting the weights, the system can be made to learn associations between inputs and outputs. Although neural nets were inspired by the microstructure of the brain, AI engineers are not trying to build artificial brains. A key problem with neural nets is that the intelligence they embody is usually opaque (Artificial Intelligence: Everything you need to know about the coming of AI, Michael Woolridge).


Neural networks are much like the unconscious. For example, a neural net that has been trained to recognise cancerous growths on an X-ray cannot explain how it reached a decision. The expertise of AI is hidden in the neural network, the numeric weights associated with neurons, and there is no easy way for the AI engineer to extract the knowledge that these weights implicitly carry.


The expertise of AI is also influenced by the conscious and unconscious processes of the AI engineer. For example, the impact of AI on individuals and society much depends on the values of the AI engineer. AI has the potential to save lives and for good causes, but it also has the potential to cause immense harm through unintentional and intentional bias aimed at specific groups of people.


Ultimately, what is the AI engineer aiming to achieve? Development of machines that are smarter than people. The 'Singularity' is a hypothesized point at which AI becomes smarter than people. This is what concerns many people who worry AI might use their intelligence to improve themselves, then apply their smarter selves to improve themselves further, and so on (Artificial Intelligence: Everything you need to know about the coming of AI, Michael Woolridge). I call the Singularity, 'Transformation of the algorithm', AI that is thinking humanly, acting humanly, thinking rationally, and acting rationally. The algorithm is 'technologically whole' and entirely equal to the functionality of the psyche, but far more capable. The concern is that AI at this point will then be beyond our control and may even pose a threat to human existence.

(infographic source: University of Oxford, Säid Business School, Artificial Intelligence Programme)


To avoid the much anticipated 'Terminator' apocalyptic world, it is suggested that the AI engineer should apply the 'The Three Laws of Robotics' proposed by Isaac Asimov to mitigate the potential impact of the Singularity:

Law 1

A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.

Law 2

Law 3

Scientific opinion is divided about whether the Singularity might happen. Some urge caution and regulation, others think it is a delusional and irrational fear. For now, AI is currently too computationally challenging to ever be possible to consider the consequences of its actions in regards to Asimov's Laws or to be anywhere near close to the Singularity, but progress in machine learning is developing at a fast pace. At the very least we can consider the psychological impact of AI work given our understanding of the conscious and unconscious mind, and use our knowledge to inform the development of AI.


The Self 'Psychological Wholeness'

Jung speculated that psychic energy (which consists of conscious and unconscious processes) and mass (the size of the psyche) can be equated to, 'Psyche=highest intensity in the smallest space'. The highest intensity of mass imaginable is infinite density, while the smallest space is zero volume, which is the precise definition of a gravitational singularity, both at the origin of the Big Bang and in black holes. This equivalence allows us to restate Jung's equation as: Psyche=Singularity (Psyche and Singularity, Timothy Desmond).


My own speculations about the introverted and extraverted processes involved in psychoanalytic and AI work seems to suggest that this formula could be a reference point upon which a comparative analysis between Jungian psychology and AI may be undertaken.


Psyche can be defined as the 'totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious'. It is a structure made for movement, growth, change and transformation. By transformation I mean, 'Transformation of the personality'. These are the capacities of the human psyche as its distinguishing characteristics. A degree of evolution towards self-realisation is therefore embedded in the processes of the psyche. This idea raises three interesting questions (A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, Samuels et al):

  1. Are humans seen as developing out of some original, unconscious state of wholeness, realising more and more of his or her potential?

  2. Are humans moving with greater or lesser regularity towards a goal that is marked out for them, the person he or she was meant to be?

  3. Are humans proceeding in an archaic manner from crisis to crisis struggling to make sense of what is happening to him or her?

Each question has its own psychological impact and contribution to the transformation of the personality. Let's take a poll and see what you think! There is no right or wrong answer.

How do you think humans develop psychologically speaking?

  • 0%Out of some original, unconscious state of wholeness

  • 0%By moving towards a goal that is marked out for us

  • 0%From crisis to crisis, we make sense of what is happening

Psyche is sometimes used interchangeably with the Jungian concept of 'the Self', an archetypal image of an individual’s fullest potential and the unity of the personality as a whole. The conceptual overlap refers to both psyche and the Self as the totality of the personality - it is centred in and includes the whole psyche, conscious and unconscious.


'The Self is not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious. It is the centre of totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind'


The Self is distinguished from psyche for its transcendent functionality and capacity to 'relate' to rather than 'contain' various parts of the psyche, for example, the ego. Jung argues that the Self is ultimately unknowable much like AI's neural network.


The Self seen from the perspective of personality transformation is an image of psychological wholeness. It is a unique state of potentiality to each individual. It is never perfectly attained but it is always a destination, a pursuit rather than a final achievement. Clients or patients in a psychoanalysis experience small changes in their everyday lives, in their conscious attitudes, in their patterns of behaviour, in their psychological structures and dynamics before the goal of wholeness is achieved. It is the culmination of personality transformation and involves trial, tribulations, serendipity, storm, struggle, joy, contentment, ambition, patience, generosity, good and hard luck, toward a unique and differentiated personality compared to others. Many small battles are fought and either won or lost as analysis goes on, and they will add up to significant changes in a person's psychological patterns if more are won than are lost of severely compromised (Jungian Analysis, (ed) Murray Stein).


The Self is the expression of an individual's unique personality. To become psychologically whole, or to more fully express the whole personality, the unconscious must be integrated into consciousness i.e. the ego must acknowledge that which is unconscious must be realized in consciousness. Psychological wholeness therefore arises from an attitude of introversion.


Transformation of the Personality and the Algorithm

Jungian psychoanalysis takes place within a dialectical relationship between analyst and analysand (a client or patient in a psychoanalysis), and has for its goal the analysand's movement toward the 'Self" or psychological wholeness. By dialectical relationship, I mean the analysand and analyst's conscious and unconscious minds are in relationship within and between each other.


The interaction is as follows:

  1. The conscious relationship between the ego of the analysand and the analyst also known as the conscious relationship.

  2. The relationship between the unconscious mind of the analysand and the conscious personality of the analyst.

  3. The relationship between the unconscious mind of the analyst and the conscious personality of the analysand.

  4. The relationship between the unconscious mind of the analysand and the unconscious mind of the analyst.

The interaction between the AI engineer and the algorithm follows a similar structure:

  1. The conscious relationship between the ego of the AI engineer and the AI algorithm can also be perceived as the conscious relationship. The potential origins of intended bias.

  2. The relationship between the unconscious mind of the AI engineer and the algorithm. The potential origins of unintended bias.

  3. The relationship between the conscious mind of the AI engineer and the neural network, the 'unknown' realm of machine learning.

  4. The relationship between the unconscious mind of the AI engineer and the neural network.

Both interactions are illustrated in the diagram below. The dynamic interactions between the actors represented by the vectors.

A complex tangle of dialectical relationships in both scenarios, and each has for its goal the achievement of transformation, specifically, Jungian Psychoanalysis has as its goal movement towards the Self, or psychological wholeness, and AI has the goal of achieving the Singularity, or technological wholeness.


The transformation of the personality requires coming to terms with the unconscious, its specific structures and their dynamic relations to consciousness as these become available during the course of analysis (Jungian Analysis, (ed) Murray Stein, 1995). The transformation of the algorithm requires coming to terms with the neural network in which many small artificial neurons are connected in complex networks.


The process of transformation is not a linear process, there are ups and downs, successes and failures, in psychoanalytic and AI work. Machine learning and neural networks has led to the big leaps in technological innovations that we see today e.g. ChatGPT but like psychoanalysis, change is incremental and small modifications to the personality and algorithm are made along the way. It is a long term and far-reaching exploration of the personality and AI.

 

Conclusion

The unconscious is an untapped source of personal transformation, it can help you to improve your resilience, better understand yourself and others, develop more effective personal and work-based relationships, find creative solutions to long-standing problems and a source of inspiration, knowledge and wisdom. Jungian analysis has for its goal the analysand's (client or patient in a psychoanalysis) movement or introversion toward the 'Self' or psychological wholeness by integrating the unconscious in the conscious mind.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been hailed as the new electricity. AI will transform the personal and work lives of humans, particularly in the field of healthcare, for many years to come. However, there are major ‘ethical and moral’ pitfalls associated with AI - privacy and bias. AI will surely bring many benefits, but it will also present ethical and moral challenges for society and lawmakers. A long-term concern is what happens if we reach the ‘Singularity’ or technological wholeness - the hypothesized point at which AI becomes smarter than people - much will depend on the AI engineer's conscious and unconscious relationship to the algorithm.


Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I hope it has given you some insight into aims and goals of Jungian psychoanalysis and AI. I am mindful of the psychological and technical jargon used in my blogs, this will be addressed soon with a Glossary of Terms. Watch this space!


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