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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Philosophy: God is not dead yet - but some haven't gotten the memo

Here's a really interesting article in Christianity Today by philosopher William Lane Craig on the revitalized debate over the existence of God.

The revitalization owes something, to be sure, to Antony Flew's conversion from atheism to theism, but there is more, as Craig explains,

You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.
Actually, some of us had sort of noticed that. Of particular interest to readers of this blog would be the "moral argument" for God's existence,

A number of ethicists, such as Robert Adams, William Alston, Mark Linville, Paul Copan, John Hare, Stephen Evans, and others have defended "divine command" theories of ethics, which support various moral arguments for God's existence. One such argument:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

By objective values and duties, one means values and duties that are valid and binding independent of human opinion. A good many atheists and theists alike concur with premise (1). For given a naturalistic worldview, human beings are just animals, and activity that we count as murder, torture, and rape is natural and morally neutral in the animal kingdom. Moreover, if there is no one to command or prohibit certain actions, how can we have moral obligations or prohibitions?

Premise (2) might seem more disputable, but it will probably come as a surprise to most laypeople to learn that (2) is widely accepted among philosophers. For any argument against objective morals will tend to be based on premises that are less evident than the reality of moral values themselves, as apprehended in our moral experience. Most philosophers therefore do recognize objective moral distinctions.
One of my favourite books, actually, has always been C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, which demonstrates the existence of an objective moral order that human moral orders very imperfectly imitate.

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