Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Thinking About Artificial Intelligence

What is life? Or consciousness? Or intelligence? Or self-awareness? Are we spiritual beings or meat machines?

As a result of advances in computer technology, these eternal questions will soon (long before this century is over, IMO) be explored in ways that go further and deeper than religion, philosophy, and literature have done before.

I am reading Hans Moravec‘s 1999 book, Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. In a field like computer science, where an 11-year-old book should be completely irrelevant, Moravec’s prescience and predictions are still remarkable. I was struck by two paragraphs that sum up my views on artificial intelligence. Moravec, an adjunct faculty member at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, asks whether a robot driven by what he refers to as “fourth-generation” technology (think very powerful super-computers and highly advanced software) could have “an internal mental life anything like ours. Is it conscious of its existence? Does it have emotions?”

Moravec writes (p. 111):

Picture 6

The key insight is that the “animating principle is not a substance” or a spirit…or a soul. It is “a very particular, very complex organization.”

There should be no despair in this insight. To be animated by complex organization is no less miraculous.

Rejoice in that miracle…and watch for the next one.

3 Comments

  1. Tudrus Zlutchin says:

    I dub thee homo eclecticus.

  2. Link Allard says:

    About you and Moravec…poof poof piffle, your logic makes me wheeze and sniffle.

    You write: The key insight is that the ‘animating principle is not a substance’ or a spirit…or a soul. ‘It is a very particular, very complex organization.’

    What is this insight based on? It’s almost impossible to prove a negative. And further, how can you talk about a “spirit” or a “soul” when you don’t believe they exist?

    Your bias is showing.

  3. Well, like Steve, I find contemplating computer consciousness to be very exciting.
    Allard seems to ignore the considerable knowledge discovered about the “very complex organization” of the human brain over the last few years.
    I found one book very enlightening on human consciousness. “Consciousness: An Introduction” by Susan J. Blackmore will give you a glimpse of the organization and how unlikely it is that the brain is driven by any external “spirit”.

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