April 8, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
I spent the past few months investigating Artificial Intelligence (AI). Though it resides far outside of my educational background, AI actually affects nearly every field. More importantly, however, is how little understood it is. I have asked numerous people to define it, but in response I get a handful of vague answers. Encyclopedia Britannica says that it is “the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.” It often includes thought processes such as reasoning, intelligence, guessing, etc. However, once scientists reach a milestone, the effort is often downplayed. This is known as the “AI effect” which means that the criteria previously thought to define intelligence is no longer good enough. In other words, our understanding of intelligence continues to move. So, today, I simply want to ask some questions and open the door for more conversations on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. I intend to revisit this topic a number of times throughout the year.
First, I must list some initial questions that sparked my interest in the subject. What is intelligence? How would we know what an intelligent being is? We have all heard of the Turing test to see whether a machine can fool a human, but is that a true measure of intelligence? My gut says no, since I know many intelligent people who are fooled on a daily basis in a variety of ways. I know that my superficial understanding of the Turing test does not do credit to Alan Turing, so it remains a topic of investigation as I proceed. However, here are a few potential definitions of intelligence as defined in Merriam-Webster:
~ the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations (reason)
~ the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (such as tests)
~ the act of understanding (comprehension)
~ the ability to perform computer functions
Since intelligence is also linked to consciousness, I must next ask, what is consciousness? Who is conscious and of what are we conscious? How do we know? Many philosophers and scientists have argued (and continue to argue) over this very same subject, and yet here we are still pondering. Merriam-Webster provides the following definitions:
~ the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself (awareness, maybe even self-awareness)
~ the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought (mind)
Finally, what classifies as thought? Merriam-Webster lets us know that thought is the product of thinking, but I have a notebook full of questions about that process as well.
In the book In Our Own Image, George Zarkadakis poses similar ideas. He repeats the age-old question of whether matter is the cause of form, or form causes matter. The answer has tremendous consequences in terms of Artificial Intelligence, of course.
Though I have only opened the door to questions, I wanted to end with a few of Zarkadakis’s own insights. His book is comprehensive and enlightening. I hope to return with more of his passages and content in upcoming weeks.
At the beginning of the section on Mind, Zarkadakis writes:
“This tug-of-war between materialists and idealists, monists and dualists has persisted for centuries. It ties many up in knots of confusion, but also acts as a generator of great ideas and inventions. Our science, our fiery debates about how we should govern our societies, about what is ethically right and what is abhorrent, are guided by this quintessentially Western tension between two opposing views of the world: one firmly rooted in the belief that the material world is the product of ideas; the other purporting that the material world is all that there is. These two opposing views have been guiding and rejuvenating computer science and Artificial Intelligence since their beginnings in the late 1940s. They are also the source of doubts and disbelief about the promises that Artificial Intelligence makes. If the mind is immaterial, then how can we ever hope to construct a material computer with a soul? How can we force mindless electrons inside computer chips to become self-aware? Unless the human mind itself is a software program, in which case creating an Artificial Intelligence ought to be straightforward: we simply need to write the right program, and the program will think. But if we accept this proposition, we must ask ourselves who wrote our program? Are we trapped by the contemporary literary metaphor for life? Or is there something beyond the metaphor, a deeper insight into the nature and cause of being and becoming?”
Further into this section on Mind, Zarkadakis continues:
“The repercussions of Descartes’ meditations were enormous during his time, and their echo still resonates in the twenty-first century. With that single three-word sentence [cogito ergo sum] he laid the foundations of modernity, shifting the debate from ‘what is true?’ to ‘how can we be certain about anything?’. The difference between these two questions has shaped our modern thinking and institutions, and here’s how: ‘Truth’ requires an absolute authority: God, or his representatives on earth. But ‘certainty’ is subjective and individualistic; you can only answer the question of how certain you are about something on your own and by yourself.”
Clearly, there is much to explore and I have barely wet my feet. Feel free to add comments with other resources on the topic of AI.
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