Friday, July 18, 2008

Computers: Most engineers must have guessed that they are not robots

A friend writes to say that nonsensical materialism is now being marketed to engineers, via IEEE, the largest professional engineering society in the world, with over 365 000 members.

This article, "I, Rodney Brooks, am a robot", appeared in the IEEE Spectrum which is the magazine that goes to all members:
I am a machine. So are you.

Of all the hypotheses I’ve held during my 30-year career, this one in particular has been central to my research in robotics and artificial intelligence. I, you, our family, friends, and dogs—we all are machines. We are really sophisticated machines made up of billions and billions of biomolecules that interact according to well-defined, though not completely known, rules deriving from physics and chemistry. The biomolecular interactions taking place inside our heads give rise to our intellect, our feelings, our sense of self.

Accepting this hypothesis opens up a remarkable possibility. If we really are machines and if—this is a big if—we learn the rules governing our brains, then in principle there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to replicate those rules in, say, silicon and steel. I believe our creation would exhibit genuine human-level intelligence, emotions, and even consciousness.
This is beyond ridiculous.

There is no single, simple set of rules that governs the operations of the human brain or the mind that inhabits it.

It would make as much sense to say, "I am a tree" as "I am a robot." In some ways, more. Trees are life forms, like humans. There are at least some qualities that we share with trees (we need water, nutrients, and oxygen, and we grow, reproduce and die, for example).

But despite all that, we are not trees. And we certainly are not robots. The fact that we can say "I am" anything at all, or "I am not" that thing certainly apprises us that we are not trees or robots. Philosophers call it the "hard problem" of consciousness, the sense of self.

As Mario and I pointed out in The Spiritual Brain, the "computer" theory of how the human mind works is badly in need of an early retirement.
Note: I don't know where the sign is from, but am told it is somewhere in Britain.

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