Planet Ulrich

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The Absence of Intelligence in Machines

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I don’t think machines have any intelligence at all, they just use complex algorithms and increasingly high levels of computation/data processing power to mimic intelligence; aeroplanes fly, and are not birds, submarines swim and are not fish, computers “speak” interactively, drive cars, whatever, and are not people.  They have no consciousness; they lack the volitional intelligence of a cockroach.

I think those are good things.  If you want to create an intelligent, conscious, sentient creature, as Vonnegut said in Player Piano, sleep with a smart woman.
As for what effect the machines will have, I suspect it will be the same, only more so; I do not believe that they (or some “singularity”) will bring about abundance (just as I don’t believe abundance will come after the revolution, or that Jesus will return, judge the saved and the damned, and bring abundance).  To me, the idea of the economy of abundance being brought about by technology is a restatement of the eschatological gnostic/Jacobin/Marxist/no-liberal/post-Christian idea of the Kingdom of God on Earth
or as I like to say,
The Big Rock Candy Mountain.
I don’t think any of this technology will bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth (abundance), or that it will perfect/redeem/save mankind (I also don’t consider either of those things possible).
I think we’ll see improvements in some areas (like immersive gaming and targeted marketing/compliance management, if you consider that even desirable), and hopefully real gains in life extension/technologically engineered youth restoration/prolongation, within a context of sustained economic polarization (between a tiny monied elite, a smallish class of professionals/managers, and vast throngs of proles), and global overpopulation (which this technology magnifies), prolonging/intensifying scarcity and resource conflict.
Kind of like Blade Runner without the replicants.
It is interesting to me that some claim the “false premise” leading to the mistaken belief that there is a difference between humans and robots springs from the idea of mind/body dualism, which they claim to reject, then talk about humans being

embodied consciousness in
a biological substrate
which is an example of mind/body dualism.
Further, they define robots as
embodied consciousnesses in an
inorganic substrate
and say, since only the “substrate” differs, they are the same.  (They assume that Consciousness is Consciousness, whatever the form; ie that all consciousness is the same as all other consciousness).
Of course, nobody has ever created an “embodied consciousness” of any kind whatsoever in an “inorganic substrate,” so it’s kind of amazing that they just declare that this is what robots will be.
I don’t think we have any idea what consciousness really is, what brings it about, or whether we can create something having it artificially.  (I suspect we cannot, only the mimicry of it).
Further, I certainly do not believe that, whatever consciousness is, any given consciousness is the same as any other given consciousness (I don’t know whether the differences are qualitative or just quantitative, but it seems to me the consciousness of a lizard is different from that of a horse or a human).
Since they are asserting a kind of mind/body duality (humans have minds, robots have minds, only their bodies differ), it would be nice if they could shed light on what it is that gives rise to the mind (human, robot, or whatever), especially before they just define away the problem and claim that a mind is a mind whatever body it may “happen” to be in.
I don’t find Searle’s dressed up materialist rejection of mind/body duality compelling at all (brains have consciousness [mind] as a property, like water has wetness, therefore to create a mind we need only create a brain capable of having the property of consciousness), but
at least it attempts to address the problem.  (In his view, the “substrate” gives rise to the mind/consciousness; I don’t know that that is true, but I don’t know that it’s not, either…  I like to think of the “substrate” as housing (embodying) the consciousness (which is something thereby separate from it), but I can’t pretend to know, absolutely, that that is what is does, that the two are not the same, or even whether they are different, but the consciousness/mind can only be housed in its current “organic substrate.”)
 …
Of course animals have consciousness (arguably different from that of humans, though whether different in kind or by degree is unknown and arguably unknowable).  To recap:

1.  Consciousness is not fully understood (what it is, what is required for it to manifest, how it comes about)
2.  We have no idea, from everything I’ve seen, how to create it (other than by having children) (though there is much talk about creating machines that will mimic various aspects of conscious beings, and to my way of thinking confusion of successful mimicry with giving being to the thing itself
[a machine might fool you into thinking it is human or conscious, but that does not make it so]
I didn’t say I thought it was completely impossible for nonbiological consciousness to come into being (it may or may not be), I said I suspected we would not be able to create it, which is hardly an expression of biological chauvinism, more a statement about human limitations.
I’m a skeptic and try to be a realist (see things as they are, not as I might prefer them to be).  I do concede I dislike materialism (which taken seriously rejects the qualitative difference between life and non-life [viewing life as merely nonlife that has successfully organized itself somehow to be capable of volitional intelligence/consciousness/action in the world]).  I think a cat is something fundamentally different from a rock (or an iPad).  I suppose that makes me a biological chauvinist after all (a biologist?  No, that’s taken…  an organicist?  There has to be a suitable smear word out there for it…)  I could, of course, be wrong, but if there isn’t really any difference between a rock and a cat or a person, if it’s all just a question of chance and time and random chemical combinations, it’s hard for me to imagine what the point of anything is.
I find the suggestion that people (or animals) are just biochemical machines strange. Machines for what purpose?  Does calling them machines imply that some consciousness designed them, or at least put in motion the process by which they would evolve from simple to complex creatures?  I doubt that was intended, it is probably more meant as reductionism, reducing living things to the status of nonliving things [presenting them as simply an organic variation of something we ourselves know how to create, machines].  I reject such reduction, which seems baseless, and certainly has not been demonstrated to be true.). I don’t state that life was necessarily created/shaped/defined/put in motion by some other form of preexisting consciousness (though I do state I don’t know that it wasn’t,  and neither does anybody else).  I find the Darwinian theory compelling as a partial answer to the question of how living creatures come to take the various forms they have, but suspect there is more to the fundamental question than the theory has demonstrably answered.
By the way, nothing in Darwinism requires Progress (the theory is neutral, it merely makes statements, like, what survives survives, or rather, what can successfully reproduce has descendants; it doesn’t say or require that what successfully reproduces be Better than what does not, or rather that there will be continuous improvement in the creatures that continue to be, that they will achieve ever higher levels of complexity/intelligence/etc.; it merely says they will be better at continuing to exist/reproduce than whatever does not.  ).  People seem to have this idea that there is some force giving direction to development (from the lower to the more complex/more powerful/more intelligent); it’s unclear to me what that force is or that it is there at all; it is certainly not inherent to the idea of Evolution.  Perhaps God or the Gods or something else sufficiently godlike is behind that; I don’t know that it/they are or that it/they are not, or, as said, that it is true at all.
As to whether there can be nonorganic life, all I can say is that there is none now that we know of and nobody has convinced me they can create it.   They also have not convinced me that they should create it (that they would be able to control it, that it would not, having acquired independence and thereby its own reasons for doing things, become dangerous to organic life [animals as well as humans], and thus [as an Organicist], unwelcome).

Written by ulrichthered

March 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm

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