Thursday, May 31, 2018

Are You, Like the Emerging AI, More than the Sum of your Parts?

I recently subscribed to Medium. What I typically do is take the daily email from Medium, browse through what articles, and if I find something of interest, I save that to Instapaper to read and more commonly listen to with Instapaper's audio feature on its mobile app.

I was listening to an article, On Metamodernism by Seth Abramson. In that article he stated that, "people reduce you to your data in a way that’s soul-crushing." Immediately, what came to my mind was the Aristotelian quote, "The whole is more than the sum of its parts"

A week or so later, I was listening to the Triangulation Podcast from This Week in Technology, that featured the new book, The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese. Reese seemed optimistic and also realistic in his assessment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its current and potential interaction with humanity.

My typical process, after hearing of a book that I would like to read/hear is to check on my local library's web site to see if the audio or ebook is available. It did not have either. However, the Overdrive app that it uses does have the ability to recommend an audio or ebook. So, I recommend the audio book, which also puts you first in line to borrow the resource. A few days later, I get an email stating that my local library, which I love by the way, purchased the audio book and that I can start accessing it at will.

Again, my modus operandi is to run in the morning, listening to audio books and/or podcasts. So, the next morning after downloading the audio book, I am moving along listening. At the very outset Reese brings up the philosophical discussion of monism vs dualism or what is more frequently termed the mind/body problem. Before we look at these ideologies, note that where you fall on that continuum will influence your consideration of the possibility of AI becoming conscious.

To be sure, these views span a continuum. But, for discussion sake and for clarity, let's look at the two systems in contrast. Concerning consciousness,  the earliest discussions of dualist ideas are found in the writings of Plato who held that intelligence could not be identified with, or explained in terms of, their physical body. The best-known version of dualism comes from RenĂ© Descartes (1641), who held that the mind is a non-extended, non-physical substance, and separate from the physical brain. To be sure, the brain is necessary for both schools of thought, however, for the dualist consciousness or the mind "emerges" from the physical brain.

In short, a simplistic understanding is if you think that you are no more than the sum of your parts then you are a monist. Material is all that there is. Your sense of self consciousness is nothing more than a "trick" of your brain. In contrast, if you think that you are more than the sum of your physical make up, then you are a dualist and consciousness "emerges" from the brain.

So, a monist would typically respond that of course AI systems can become conscious given they possess the same physical properties that our human brain possesses. However, the dualist would say, "Hold on here, how do we know if there has been an emergent product of those physical properties that is like human consciousness or do they simply mimic the characteristics of consciousness?"

What do you "think?"

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