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I would like to know your thoughts on the field of artificial intelligence as applied to computer science and machine intelligence.

Is it, in any way, incompatible with objectivist thought or principles?

dinesh.

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Intelligence requires consciousness.

Consciousness cannot be reduced to any specific software algorithm.

However, there is no doubt that many smart algorithms can imitate the actions of a human intelligence in regard to specific fields.

Or, to put it differently, to perform actions that in humans would require intelligence - hence appearing to be "intelligent".

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Why not?

Because thinking is an active process guided by volitional choice, not the rote following of certain rules and procedures. You can specify, in ever increasing detail, the methods employed by conscious beings, and you can equip a device with an ever expanding base of knowledge. Such algorithms operating on data have the potential for great things -- finding relationships not previously discerned, etc. -- but the bottom line is that such algorithms simply mimic a predetermined process, lacking the essential volitional control of a real human consciousness. You have not reduced consciousness to an algorithm, but rather some specific results of a consciousness. Volition is a truly unique function of consciousness -- a primary -- not capable of further reduction than itself.

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No, the fact that an artificial computer could be designed that had human-like intelligence and consciousness--or what is conventionally reffered to as sentience--is not incompatible with Objectivism.

Objectivism recognizes that consciousness is entirely the result of the function of our brains, which are biological computers. Consciousness is not a property that springs mystically from some special condition called "human nature," that is intrinsically reserved for humans. But neither is it a mere deterministic "property of matter," a claim made by those who hold that the universe is nothing but matter, or that free will is an illusion. Consciousness is an emergent property--it has its own level of existence--but it nevertheless is in every way the product of the brain.

And the brain is nothing but a computer, albeit one of inconceivably vast complexity. To say that a computer, as such, is inherently incapable of volition is therefore to contradict the reality that human beings possess the capacity for volition.

So the answer is that it is certainly possible that human beings could, at some point in the fairly distant future, design a truly intelligent computer. But obviously this would require a vastly greater level of technological capability than our own. A thorough understanding of the neural proccesses that underlie the human mind would probably be necessary. (It would also require that we develop computers able to sense their own existence--to be conscious is to be conscious of something.)

To see that, given a sufficient level of scientific advancement, we could eventually design a volitional computer even though we cannot now do so, one has only to look at evolution. Human beings evolved a brain capable of volition and conceptual thought by improving on the brains possessed by other animals, which do not possess these qualities. Consciousness was not bestowed upon some first human as a divine gift; it emerged gradually as the result of increasing the sophistication and complexity of our biological computers.

Evolution designed a thinking computer, and so can we.

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No, ...

If this "No" was meant to apply to my words, then nothing following the "No" negates what I said. I am not positive as to what question "amagi" is answering here, but I responded to the question as to why "Consciousness cannot be reduced to any specific software algorithm." That is an entirely different question from whether or not awareness and the volitional aspect of consciousness can ever be incorporated into a computer. If it ever is, it most certainly will not be in the form of a "specific software algorithm," which was the subject of the question. Consciousness is an irredeucible primary.

Incidentally, I am acquainted with several researchers who were granted permission to work on the human brain of severely-diseased patients, after a dozen years of experimenting with animals.

They implanted electrodes incased into very small glass cones that are hollowed out and coated with neurotropic chemicals which encourage nerve growth through the glass itself. The nerve tissues grow into the protected glass and form synapses in the motor cortex of the patient's brain. In effect they are creating an isolated piece of brain which generates its own electrical activity (there are no batteries involved). The internal brain generated signal is sent to a receiver in the patient's scalp and then transmitted to an external computer. The idea is to have the patient control a cursor on the computer directly from his brain generated signals.

It is work such as this which offers a glimpse of the scientific possibilities in the future. In this regard, all philosophy can tell us is that consciousness is not reducible to the brain.

And the brain is nothing but a computer, albeit one of inconceivably vast complexity.

If you study the neurobiochemical functioning of the brain, you will find that the brain is virtually nothing like a computer. Certain actions of consciousness are computer-like, but that is much different from the functioning of the brain. Consciousness depends on the brain for its existence, but it is an entirely different thing from physical matter and the physical determinsitic processes of the brain.

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My post was in response to the original question of the thread, not to Stephen Speicher. Sorry for the confusion.

If you study the neurobiochemical functioning of the brain, you will find that the brain is virtually nothing like a computer.
I disagree. The brain is a computer. It is virtually nothing like any computers humans have ever invented, but it is a computer. Obviously the fact that human brains give rise to consciousness distinguishes them from present-day computers, but not from the basic idea of what a computer, as such, is.

That is an entirely different question from whether or not awareness and the volitional aspect of consciousness can ever be incorporated into a computer.
I'm not sure, but I'm interpreting your statements as meaning that you agree that consciousness can be incorporated into a computer. If so, then would that "conscious computer" cease to be a computer because it possessed consciousness? No, so the fact that the brain possesses consciousness does not alone make it something other than a computer.

Consciousness depends on the brain for its existence, but it is an entirely different thing from physical matter and the physical determinsitic processes of the brain
Sure, it is not dependent on any physical deterministic processes of the brain, but it is dependent on physical processes. They're just not deterministic. How this is possible is, I think, a scientific question. But the point is, while consciousness itself is certainly very different than the kinds of basic information-processing modern computers perform, this does not mean that some unfathomably complex arrangement of exactly such basic processes could not give rise to consciousness. I can't begin to speculate as to what actual mechanisms in the brain result in consciousness. Our knowledge of how the brain operates in this respect is far too meager for anyone to know the answer to this question.

all philosophy can tell us is that consciousness is not reducible to the brain.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this. But I think this is a misapplication of language. Consciousness is an irreducible primary. But to say this means only that the fact that consciousness exists is a primary--a fundamental axiom on which all philosophy is based. We need no premises to deduce the existence of consciousness. It is inherent in our every experience.

What this does not say is that the physical processes that actually allow consciousness to exist are "irreducible." The problem is ambiguity over what is meant by the word reducible in your above quote. Consciousness is certainly the result of processes in the brain. It is certainly completely dependent on processes in the brain. So what do you mean when you say it is not "reducible" to the brain?

I do not think you mean to say that there are no neural processes that give rise to consciousness, or that such processes are inherently unknowable. But this is what your statement seems to imply.

[Edit: It occurs to me that you simply mean that consciousness is distinct from the brain, in the sense that consciousness is distinct from matter. In other words, that consciousness cannot be described as a mere biological function without its own separate existence. Of course, this is not at all incompatible with what I said above, so if this is your meaning then I retract the above paragraph. The phrase, "not reducible to the brain" confused me.]

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I disagree.  The brain is a computer. 

If you give me a reasonable definition of "computer," I can demonstrate why the brain is not the same. It need not be a formal definition; an essential characterization will do. And please, be succinct, not an essay. Two or three of defining characteristics are sufficient.

Sure, it is not dependent on any physical deterministic processes of the brain, but it is dependent on physical processes.  They're just not deterministic.

Huh? It is difficult to untangle your meaning here. Are you claiming that consciousness is dependent on nondeterministic physical processes? I'll await your clarification before I comment further.

So what do you mean when you say it is not "reducible" to the brain?

In Objectivism reduction is the process of tracing back your knowledge to the perceptual data on which it is based, reversing the logical hierarchical order upon which the knowledge depends. In science -- in biology, neurobiology, neurophysisiology, etc . -- reduction is the process of tracing life back to the laws of chemistry and physics which fully describe and account for life.

The problem is, most reductionists in the field do not separate out consciousness from life. But life can be reduced to biochemical processes, while conscious states are not reducible to neurochemical processes. Neural processes give rise to conscious states, but those conscious states are not composed of those neural processes; brain states and conscious states are not the same thing. That is what is meant when we say that consciousness is not reducible to the brain.

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I think this is a misapplication of language.  Consciousness is an irreducible primary.  But to say this means only that the fact that consciousness exists is a primary--a fundamental axiom on which all philosophy is based.  We need no premises to deduce the existence of consciousness.  It is inherent in our every experience. 

What this does not say is that the physical processes that actually allow consciousness to exist are "irreducible."  The problem is ambiguity over what is meant by the word reducible in your above quote.  Consciousness is certainly the result of processes in the brain.  It is certainly completely dependent on processes in the brain.  So what do you mean when you say it is not "reducible" to the brain?

Consciousness is a product of the brain processes, but it is not to be reduced to the brain processes. It means it is wrong to say "consciousness is nothing more than the brain processes".

I give this example a lot: A ride in the countryside is a product of the mechanical processes of the car's motor. But it cannot be reduced to these processes. You can't say that the ride is nothing more than the injection of fuel into the motor, the burning of fuel, the spinning of wheels, etc.

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In Objectivism reduction is the process of tracing back your knowledge to the perceptual data on which it is based, reversing the logical hierarchical order upon which the knowledge depends. In science -- in biology, neurobiology, neurophysisiology, etc . -- reduction is the process of tracing life back to the laws of chemistry and physics which fully describe and account for life.
So, what I included in the "[Edit:... ]" section in my above post was essentially saying that I realized you might be using the word reduction in the first of the two senses you've just described--the philosophical sense--and that I am in agreement in that case. You identified a distinct, scientific meaning of reduction, and this is where my question arose. I was not operating explicitly with the idea of these two separate meanings of reduction--hence my statement about the ambiguity of the word. Now that I know what you mean precisely when you say consciousness cannot be scientifically reduced to brain processes, I am in agreement on that as well.

But I'm curious--even though consciousness is not composed of brain processes, but of mental states, every one of those mental states has a corresponding mechanism in the brain. So what would you call the identification of these mechanisms? It is, after all, tracing consciousness back to the chemical and physical processes that account for it. But what would be a better term?

erandror,

A ride in the countryside is a product of the mechanical processes of the car's motor. But it cannot be reduced to these processes. You can't say that the ride is nothing more than the injection of fuel into the motor, the burning of fuel, the spinning of wheels, etc.
I take your point, but I don't think this is strictly analogous to the issue. This is equivalent to saying that a jog in the park is not reducible to the function of your skeleton and muscles. But the issue is whether the experience of the jog is reducible to the functioning of the brain during the jog (which, as I've said, it is not).

By the way, Mr. Speicher

...several researchers who were granted permission to work on the human brain of severely-diseased patients, after a dozen years of experimenting with animals...The idea is to have the patient control a cursor on the computer directly from his brain generated signals.
I think this is one of the most fascinating and exciting things in science today. I recently did a presentation for a neurobiology class on an experiment in which a monkey mentally controlled a robot arm. There are many related experiments, as I'm sure you know, and I believe they will yield profound benefits in the next few decades. I have considered pursuing a career in this field.

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amagi writes:

Objectivism recognizes that consciousness is entirely the result of the function of our brains, which are biological computers. 

Objectivism does no such thing. True or not, it takes no stance on this issue as it is outside the realm of philosophy.

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I understand your point, but you're being pedantic. Would it satisfy you if I said, "Objectivists recognize that consciousness is entirely the result of the function of our brains"?

What if I said:

"Objectivism recognizes that consciousness is the result of, in the abstract, some sort of objective process that occurs in accordance with the laws of reality." And then concluded that, since science tells us unequivocally that those laws of reality happen to be that consciousness is the result of the function of our brains, Objectivism requires recognizing that fact as truth?

It is the difference between saying that Objectivism entails believing that the universe is governed by some kind of scientific laws--and saying that Objectivism entails believing that the universe is governed by the specific laws discovered by science.

There is a definite distinction, but it's rather trivial in this context.

Besides, the issue is not "outside the realm of philosophy." It is outside the realm of metaphysics. It is a scientific matter. But science is not divorced from philosophy.

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You identified a distinct, scientific meaning of reduction ...
The scientific meaning of reductionism in the biological and consciousness-related related fields also became a part of the Objectivist view when it was presented in the Objectivist literature. See, for instance, the three-part article, "Biology Without Consciousness," in the February, March, and April 1968 issues of The Objectivist.

But I'm curious--even though consciousness is not composed of brain processes, but of mental states, every one of those mental states has a corresponding mechanism in the brain.

Absolutely not! The very measure of consciousness and neural processes is fundamentally different. What neural process corresponds to an abstract thought? Do we have a witty neural process? The properties of consciousness are completely different from the physical properties of the brain. The very different language we need to describe each underscores the fundamental difference between the two. There is no "corresponding mechanism" in the brain to conscious states. They are two different things.

So what would you call the identification of these mechanisms?  It is, after all, tracing consciousness back to the chemical and physical processes that account for it.  But what would be a better term? 

We do not trace consciousness back to physical neural processes. It is proper to say that neural processes accompany conscious states, but that is an entirely different thing.

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I think this is one of the most fascinating and exciting things in science today.  I recently did a presentation for a neurobiology class on an experiment in which a monkey mentally controlled a robot arm.  There are many related experiments, as I'm sure you know, and I believe they will yield profound benefits in the next few decades.  I have considered pursuing a career in this field.

There are a lot of truly fascinating areas of science, and I am interested in many, but few that will have as direct an impact on our physical/conscious beings. The idea of controlling everyday devices -- doors, windows, etc. -- by the simple process of thought is so wonderfully enticing, and not that far away. (It would be even closer if government got out of the business.) A career in any area touching on the neuro- sciences could be very challenging, and a lot of fun for you if you are interested in these sort of things.

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What neural process corresponds to an abstract thought?...There is no "corresponding mechanism" in the brain to conscious states.
I don't understand. Are you saying that thoughts occur without any accompanying action of the brain?!?! That's scientifically impossible.

Am I to understand that your view of the brain is that it is a machine that somehow produces a mind, but that that mind is then free to have thoughts and emotions which have no physical expression? No change in chemical composition, electrical signaling, or cellular function of any kind?

You said:

There is no "corresponding mechanism" in the brain to conscious states
Then you said:

It is proper to say that neural processes accompany conscious states
What??

We do not trace consciousness back to physical neural processes.
Sure we do. Since there are corresponding neural processes for everything that occurs in the mind, when neuroscientists investigate conscious states experimentally, they trace them back to the functioning of the brain. In other words, they observe the brain's action when the subject experiences some mental state, such as feeling a certain emotion. They describe things like, which parts of the brain are active, which neurotransmitters are released, what kinds of electrical activity goes on, etc. This is starting from the fact that the subject is experiencing a conscious state, and from there discovering the neural processes.

It is not "reduction," if reduction is defined as you defined it previously. And I granted that your definition was a proper one, if you recall. But it is certainly valid to call it "tracing back to the chemical and physical processes that account for it." Account for consciousness they do; they just don't compose the experience of consciousness.

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I don't understand.  Are you saying that thoughts occur without any accompanying action of the brain?!?!  That's scientifically impossible.

Since you quote me in your own post as saying "It is proper to say that neural processes accompany conscious states," clearly I do not believe, nor did I state, what you here imply.

The problem lies with your "corresponding mechanisms," and you seem to have missed all the distinctions I drew between conscious states and neural processes. Rather than reiterate all that, I will try to get the point across to you in a different way.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "correspond" as "To answer to in character or function; to be similar or analogous to." They give as examples:

"We see in these little Animals..Instincts and Modes of Life, which correspond to what you observe in Creatures of bigger Dimensions."

"Their general assembly, corresponding with our House of Commons."

Conscious states do not correspond "in character or function" with neural processes, nor are conscious states "similar of analogous" to neural processes. Conscious states and neural processes are two fundamentally different things. I explained in my previous post why they are two fundamentally different things. One can properly say that neural processes accompany conscious states, but that is entirely different from the claim that conscious states correspond to neural processes.

Am I to understand that your view of the brain is that it is a machine that somehow produces a mind, but that that mind is then free to have thoughts and emotions which have no physical expression?

The action the mind takes is the "physical expression" of the mind, and such actions are neither caused nor necessitated by the action of the brain. As I keep saying, neural processes accompany conscious states, but the two are fundamentally different things. Thoughts are not the same as neurons firing in the brain.

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Frankly, this discussion just became absurd. Because apparently the only problem is that we are using different but equally valid definitions of the word "corresponding." Thank you for your dictionary definition.

My dictionary says "corresponding" means "associated in a working or other relationship: a bolt and its corresponding nut."

Now, I think we'd both agree that to say that consciousness has no working or other relationship with the brain is patently absurd.

The "problem" is not with my failure to understand the distinctions you made, since I already demonstrated that I agree with them (with the specific distinctions you're reffering to anyway). It is entirely with the fact that you haven't recognized that corresponding can mean something other than "similar or analogous to." I could only interpret your categorical denial that consciousness corresponds to brain function as a denial that conscious states are expressed physically in the brain--because that is something corresponding can mean in this context, and that is what I meant. I could not be sure, because some of your statements seemed to contradict this, but it seemed to me that we were attempting to claim exemption for some special category of abstract thought from having a corresponding neural mechanism, since this is what you actually said. I see now that you were not.

Let me repeat the ridiculous fact:

We are in agreement on this issue. We are simply having a semantic breakdown.

Furthermore, if we're going to argue about such things--I was using the word corresponding in the places you were using accompanying, because accompanying is a less adequate word for the meaning you're trying to convey. Accompanying means merely "going along with." It suggests that the brain processes are there along with the conscious states, but does not imply a causal relationship of any kind. The processes might just be peripheral, coincidentally occuring at the same time as the conscious states. Corresponding, on the other hand, suggests a working relationship.

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Wouldnt a Computer generated/run intelligence be the penultimate of objective thought? Something that makes NO decision that dosent revolove around data and facts? Something that is totally unswayed by the objections and feelings of others as well as no personal feelings.....Pure logic....Pure fact. The issue comes into being though, that with out free will and the ability to gather data on its own, can it makes choices about its own well being and bets interest. Then again, if it were truly a freee thinking individual, it would not be constrained that much.

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For those interested in the estimated date of arrival of the singularity and conscious AI, here are a few links which will surprise you with the quality of material

I am going to have a big laugh when AI finally comes around and computers turn out to be just as fallible, irrational, and emotionalistic as many humans.

</joking>

On a serious note, I think it would be correct to say that while consciousness cannot be reduced to any biological process, there are biological environments and potentially digital algorithms than give rise to consciousness. I know nothing about digital algorithms (i.e. a Turing machine) that prevents them from supporting intelligence.

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On a serious note, I think it would be correct to say that while consciousness cannot be reduced to any biological process, there are biological environments and potentially digital algorithms than give rise to consciousness. I know nothing about digital algorithms (i.e. a Turing machine) that prevents them from supporting intelligence.

I agree, GC.

Bearster, why does a computer need an "arbitrary" bit in order to build concepts? It seems to me that a method for a computer to develop and integrate concepts could be built based on a true/false digital system, and then a concept for arbitrary would be built through this method over time.

Concepts themselves resemble objects (in c++) enough where the developing of a concept would be simple, given a means of perception. The complexity of the issue, as far as I am concerned, arises from the complexity of developing methods for initial interpretations of sensory data into percepts and for concept integration.

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Well then, I will not burden you with any further absurdities.
I don't think the discussion was a burden. I just think it's funny that for the last several posts we were arguing adamantly against positions we essentially agreed with, because of a trivial semantic misunderstanding.

And for the record,

Are you claiming that consciousness is dependent on nondeterministic physical processes?
I should have been more specific. I did not mean that the laws of physics break down inside the brain and become nondeterministic, if that's what you're asking. I meant only that the neural circuitry that gives rise to consciousness is a physical process that is composed entirely of basic, deterministic chemical and physical interactions, which nonetheless, in the aggregate, produce consciousness--which is not determined. This circuitry then, as a whole, can also be called nondeterministic, because while it produces consciousness, it is also controlled by consciousness. Its output is therefore not determined.

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