Turing’s dream

We’re to the end of Little History of Philosophy today, with Alan Turing [PhilDic], John Searle, and “the best known living moral philosopher” Peter Singer (who also turns up in Philosophy Bites).

“How should we treat animals?” Respectfully, of course. But does that mean we can eat them or not? Singer says no. Michael Pollan, among others, says maybe. I say I wish they’d build a better Boca Burger. But more on this later.

My mind this morning is on Alan Turing, a strange, heroic, and tragic figure who contributed more to preserving the world we had (by cracking the Nazis’ codes) and shaping the digitized world we live in now (by contributing to the creation of the computer). Turing’s Cathedral… The Enigma

Turing’s test for artificial intelligence is said by some to imply that if something functions intelligently, it is intelligent; and if its functionality resembles human personality in superficial ways, we may then speak of it as possessing human-grade intelligence.

And who knows? If you’re prepared to entertain that proposal, maybe you can also envision a mainframe host in your personal future. Maybe there will be a way to “map the billions of functional connections” of your brain onto a machine capable of replicating and preserving your intelligence and memories. Welcome to the brave new afterlife.

Seems pretty far-fetched, and it’s unclear that one’s hopes and dreams and delights– the stuff of embodied personhood– can be replicated in any meaningful sense. Never mind whether they should be. Planet’s pretty crowded as it is, and maybe one time around the wheel is only our fair share.

And anyway, as John Searle says, tests like Turing’s may not be any more conclusive about real intelligence than his Chinese Room thought experiment.

Advances in AI don’t seem to have come as quickly as some have speculated they might. But it’s still fun to ponder the possibilities, as Richard Powers did in his wonderfully informed and entertaining Galatea 2.2.

But, what a moment we find ourselves in! Ray Kurzweil calls this the Age of Spiritual Machines. If you can just live long enough– until the year 2040 or so, last I heard– you can live forever. He means you, kids. And he’s popping enough vitamins to delude himself into thinking that maybe he means himself as well. Good luck. I’m not holding my breath. I confess, I used to have a Sleeper fantasy like Woody’s. But Ted Williams kinda ruined it for me.

The best form of immortality may be the same as it ever was: a legacy rippling across time, impacting lives far beyond one’s own. Alan Turing didn’t live long enough to get himself fully digitized, but the digital world he set in motion has already secured a legacy likely to outlive us all. It dwarfs the primitive world of reflexive sexual bigotry he had to suffer in his brief lifetime.

And today in EEA: In Part III of Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones says it’s time for 99%’ers and Occupiers to move forcefully ahead and take the next step in expanding public support for social justice, green jobs, clean energy, and environmental responsibility. To that end, his organization is producing short videos to help spread the word. Even those who don’t think they can give a coherent lecture or lead a discussion surely can “watch TV and talk about it.”

Notice also, in “Occupy the Head Space” (a nice euphemism for propaganda, eh William?), his mention of the IPCC‘s latest reports linking climate change and extreme weather.

Today we’ll be hearing from Morgan on the IPCC. I’m sure she’ll be corroborating their findings. Surely she wouldn’t claim they’re orchestrating a vast global warming conspiracy, would she? Denialism is for kooks, right? And other merchants of doubt? Of course a healthy skepticism is good, when rooted in the reality-based community. (BTW, Elizabeth: so far as I can tell, the “esoteric agenda” to accomplish a New World Order or One World Government is not. But of course, I could be in on it too!)


3 Responses to “Turing’s dream”

  1. Edrell(13) Says:

    I agree that one time around the wheel is all we need…..Knowing and understanding can be two separate processes just like having a degree and being educated can be. The example that Searle used about cheating on the test was a perfect example. If Turing says that he believes that computers can be programmed like us who am I to challenge him? However, we are programming ourselves like computers so they don’t need to change. It’s so bad that we have laws against it. No texting and driving! All over campus, the mall, in town you see people with their head nodded into a phone, kindle, computer, etc (myself included)…..I may drop my pre-law major and become a neck doctor for all the leaning necks in the future. lol

  2. Brad Hornick Says:

    FQ: Turing believed computers were intelligent over sixty years ago. True
    DQ: Will computers ever achieve complete intelligence?

    There isn’t a concrete definition for intelligence. Therefore we can say computers have already achieved intelligence and also that they will never gain intelligence. It is safe to say the word is subjective. What makes an entity intelligent anyway? A computer might be able to problem solve, communicate, understand, plan, retain, become self-aware, and learn but never gain emotional knowledge (it can certainly learn to execute movements to make us believe it is experiencing emotion). It will in my opinion, never understand what emotion or experience empathy or sympathy for something else. Then there is a baby that can feel and learn and do all the things humans could do except they lack a self-awareness aspect. Case in point is a crying baby in distress will continue over a step or counter in an attempt to reach their parent. Does this mean the baby isn’t intelligent? If we are to continue to use the term intelligence to evaluate levels of being we must first set a steadfast standard for what exactly it is.

    My view as of now is that no matter how close a machine gets to be like us it will never truly act like and “be” a human. I think of the riddle: if a grasshopper is ten feet away from a wall and every jump it makes the distance to the wall is cut in half, how many jumps until it reaches the wall? No matter how close it may get it will never touch the wall. I believe this principle is the same with machines achieving “artificial intelligence”.

  3. osopher Says:

    Interesting thoughts. I’m reminded of Jaron Lanier’s defense of human subjectivity/creativity, versus those AI enthusiasts who express disdain for mere humanity and are eager to see us superceded by the smart machines. I’m with Lanier: “you are not a gadget.” We’re flawed, but maybe we’re just flawed enough to have reason to get out of bed each morning and try to create or do something to improve the human condition. Perfection is over-rated.

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