Asparagus, Milk and A-I

I was thrilled to find asparagus in the garden yesterday. If someone asks me what to plant first in the garden the answer is always asparagus. There is a three year wait to harvest but then one has asparagus for two months each year for thirty years.

And my milk cow gave birth to her calf last week so I have fresh milk each morning. Milking is an easy 15-minute job. The cow and calf are separated during the night so the calf doesn’t drink the Plantswoman’s share of milk. The calf sleeps in the barn on a comfortable pile of hay.

I let her out first thing to run over to her mother and start nursing. The cow will not ‘let down’ her milk for me, but she floods her bag for the calf. After a minute or so of nursing, I open the barn door and the cow knows her sweet feed and alfalfa are waiting for her in the milking stall. She tears into the barn well ahead of the calf and I slam the barn door in the calf’s face. The high point of this comedy is the calf’s face is almost white with milk and milk foam and calf slobber. I milk my quart I use for my coffee, cooking and making cheese while the cow eats her breakfast. I then let her out of her stall and she heads back outside to her waiting calf.

During and after the calf’s breakfast, my mother cow cleans her baby…thoroughly. More thoroughly than I have ever cleaned a child. She uses her big black tongue, it’s just like sandpaper to my skin, but she starts with the back, tail and backside; then cleans the eyes, ears, chin and the belly. I have no idea why this little creature stands still for what looks like a pretty rough cleaning treatment. Perhaps she is just full of hot milk and a little woozy; perhaps on some deep level she is hard-wired to know the dirt and germs and microbes have to go. Even the most cursory internet search of the medical problems of calves reveals a list of maladies that makes an episode of The Walking Dead look like Happy Time. I have never had a sick calf and I credit my cow for her maternal diligence. It is generally accepted that she can provide nutrients and antibodies in her milk to combat diseases that her calf might contract. An extension of that theory, is that, IF she loves her human, she can intuit health problems of her human and provide necessary curative elements in her milk. This idea always, always makes me smile.

Escaping predictions by both sides of the political spectrum that the tumbrils are approaching, I have spent this week reading about artificial intelligence. I find I am surprised at the confidence expressed by AI designers of creating a real robot, which I, probably unfairly, take to mean one like the beautiful Rachel in Blade Runner. On the most basic level, engineers just want a machine that can perform as “a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.”

I am not sure humans can measure up to this standard set for machines, but I have long been skeptical of the search for AI since I am not sure AI engineers and scientists spend enough time thinking about the workings of the natural world. The AI work always seems so human centered. I am not sure they are anywhere close to making a machine as thoughtful and intelligence as my milk cow. She has close social interactions with the dogs and sheep. She can solve problems, routinely getting into fenced areas where she has been forbidden. She can reproduce herself. She meets all the above criteria better than, for example, an inkjet printer or the current versions of self-driving cars. For that matter, the asparagus plants in my garden perform as  flexible rational agents, producing in late January when the weather has been to their liking. The plants send up shoot after shoot, some harvested but others turn into beautiful plants that set seed for their future. I am not sure about their social life, but hope they are encouraging the carrots that are barely surviving.

4 thoughts on “Asparagus, Milk and A-I

  1. I planted asparagus a year ago and the shoots coming up now look like they are big enough to pick. I’m surprised to see them coming up after the cold weather we had. Most of the plant tops are dead. I need to cut them back. I may have a few to enjoy and let the rest go. I love growing asparagus. Such an easy crop.

  2. The cow drama is wonderful, but I’ll touch you on the AI conundrum. It’s about understanding Consciousness. Which we don’t, as it is in motion, and stationary at the same time. Light speed connectivity and time blend instantly.

    Good luck!

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