Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Minds and Machines

In the twentieth century, the hope of reducing mentality to matter and/or energy was revived by advances in artificial intelligence and the rise of increasingly powerful computer technology. This reductionist vision led to the widespread belief that the human mind is nothing more than an extremely powerful computer with a huge hard-drive. The laptop computer that I am now writing with has been programmed to perform a number of tasks including, word processing, number crunching, making web pages, and playing music. Although they are separate modules, they can work together. According to the strong artificial intelligence theory (Strong AI) of the human mind, the brain is similarly programmed, but with a lot more modules and a more efficient processor.
Back in the 1950s, Alan Turing argued that the ultimate confirmation of the Strong AI Theory would will arrive when a computer is invented that is powerful enough to manufacture mentality. Hence, a machine with enough storage capacity to seamlessly network with a human being, would be regarded as an intelligent being and a person. When this technology is developed, we’ll be able to communicate with our computers as if they are human. In fact, we would not know if we are communicating with a computer or a human. Of course, today we have no problem drawing lines of demarcation between computers and humans, but as computer technology inevitably advances this line will be blurred. I would argue that intelligence is a necessary condition for personhood, but not a sufficient condition. Empirical tests would have to prove that machines possess not only intelligence... but also self-awareness and sentience. Many argue that other species possess intelligence, sentience, and self-awareness; especially primates.  So the most puzzling questions here are whether technology can over time close the gap between human (and animal) intelligence and artificial intelligence? At what point will artificial intelligence cease to be artificial? If it is no longer artificial intelligence, does that mean that computers would then become members of the moral universe? Would they have rights and obligations? Will we send bad computers to digital prisons, or reprogram them? Will you need a license to practice computer medicine? Will it become illegal to buy and sell computers? Will there be a computer-based heaven and hell? Will computer viruses go to hell, or could they be morally rehabilitated?

             Weaker forms of AI argue that the computer "think" but the process is not identical to human thought; and perhaps will never be identical. However, the history of technology is rife with pronouncements like: "Technology will NEVER be able to do X." They used to argue that computers will NEVER be able to defeat the most skilled chess players. Today, the World Champion is a computer program.  

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