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Objectivist Ethics on Artificial Intelligence

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I know that Objectivism is the very definition of humanistic..but does anyone on this forum have any insight on Objectivism's views on transhumanism? I'm not just talking about curing diseases or extending life. Should Objectivism encourage using technology to change a man's brain so much that it ceases to basically be biological? If man could create a godlike artificial intelligence that could solve problems/produce/create more effectively than man, would that be ethical?

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I know that Objectivism is the very definition of humanistic..but does anyone on this forum have any insight on Objectivism's views on transhumanism? I'm not just talking about curing diseases or extending life. Should Objectivism encourage using technology to change a man's brain so much that it ceases to basically be biological?

Yes, Mr. Bond, as long as whatever we do to ourselves is going to help with making our lives better (longer, more capable, easier, etc.), that is ethical. Why woudn't it be?

If man could create a godlike artificial intelligence that could solve problems/produce/create more effectively than man, would that be ethical?

That wouldn't be godlike, since God is supposed to transcend the laws of nature. We already have plenty of machines which can produce more effectively than a man. It is ethical to continue developing them, as long as they stay under our control.

It isn't ethical to make something that won't do what you want him to do, of course, but then again, there's always that magical off-switch which solves that "big" problem they describe in the Terminator movies.

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It isn't ethical to make something that won't do what you want him to do, of course, but then again, there's always that magical off-switch which solves that "big" problem they describe in the Terminator movies.

Is having a child unethical?

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Should Objectivism encourage using technology to change a man's brain so much that it ceases to basically be biological?

I find the subject more than a bit premature. Currently the best prosthetics ever developed cannot restore the functionality of an amputee's lost arm or hand, never mind making him "better" than regular people. Machines don't think and are not likely to do so any time soon, despite incredible advances in micro-electronics.

People who need prosthetics or artificial aids of any kind, turn to them mostly as a last resort and keep hoping something better will come along. The dyalisis machine is a great invention, but anyone with kidney problems would rather get a transplant than dyalisis. Ask yourself why.

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The line is drawn at volition.

If it can answer any question etc. It is a machine.

However if, though I believe it to be impossible, we created something that actually thought for itself, that made decisions, that had free will and volition - then it would cease to be a machine, it would be a rational being: with rights.

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Should Objectivism encourage using technology to change a man's brain so much that it ceases to basically be biological?

Why would Objectivism either encourage or discourage such potential "advances" provided the changes to the brain were done purely voluntarily?

If man could create a godlike artificial intelligence that could solve problems/produce/create more effectively than man, would that be ethical?

If the rational capability, free will and sense of values were not altered? Yes, I think so.

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If man could create a godlike artificial intelligence that could solve problems/produce/create more effectively than man, would that be ethical?
Well, decades ago we created an artificial intelligence that can compute a Fourier transform much more effectively than a bare naked man can. The only ethical issue I can imagine arising would be, would it be ethical to surrender your fate to such a gadget, and on that point, you should surrender your fate to no-one, man or machine.

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The line is drawn at volition.

If it can answer any question etc. It is a machine.

However if, though I believe it to be impossible, we created something that actually thought for itself, that made decisions, that had free will and volition - then it would cease to be a machine, it would be a rational being: with rights.

I'm curious as to why you think a "thinking machine" is impossible. We are capable of thinking, and we were produced by the nonconscious natural world, through the painstakingly slow process of natural selection. We have already produced things that, for certain functions, outdo anything that nature ever designed in modern animals (supersonic flight, for instance). Why should thought be any different? The brain is immensely complex, but once we have more or less reverse-engineered it, I see no reason why we cannot produce, not only a thinking machine, but a machine whose capacity for thought is far superior to our own. The only way to defend the proposition that man-made objects are inherently incapable of thinking is to posit some magical quality in the brains of modern animals. If you want to take that road, you've gone down the road of religion.

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I'm curious as to why you think a "thinking machine" is impossible. We are capable of thinking, and we were produced by the nonconscious natural world, through the painstakingly slow process of natural selection. We have already produced things that, for certain functions, outdo anything that nature ever designed in modern animals (supersonic flight, for instance). Why should thought be any different?

Just about any airplane today can fly higher, faster and further than a bird, yes. But no plane ever made fliee like a bird (or an insect for that matter). To be sure there are similarities in the design of planes and birds, but these arise out of different "solutions" to the same problem. Simply put, no plane flies by flapping its wings, and no bird flies by making use of a propeller, rotor or jet engine.

Most birds, too, are more efficient than airplanes. A hummingbird can turn a few drops of nectar into minutes of flight. We couldn't extract enough energy from nectar to make a humminbgird-sized plane fly.

In other words, while both birds and Man can fly, they do so by vastly different means requiring different power sources, raw materials, even staging areas (not all birds like airports).

Likewise:

The brain is immensely complex, but once we have more or less reverse-engineered it, I see no reason why we cannot produce, not only a thinking machine, but a machine whose capacity for thought is far superior to our own.

A microprocessor does not work like a cluster of neurons and glial cells. So even if both can add 2+2 correctly, they do so by different means. It's a matter of specualtion whether we can even emulate electronically what the brain does organically. Another point is that organisms and cells are far more complex than any machine.

I think if we ever create a true, conscious, conceptual and volitional A.I., it will be through biological means. Not necessarily by engineering brain cells, but perhaps by engineering cells that can function as part of a machine. And that is far in the future, if at all possible.

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I find the subject more than a bit premature. Currently the best prosthetics ever developed cannot restore the functionality of an amputee's lost arm or hand, never mind making him "better" than regular people. Machines don't think and are not likely to do so any time soon, despite incredible advances in micro-electronics.

People who need prosthetics or artificial aids of any kind, turn to them mostly as a last resort and keep hoping something better will come along. The dyalisis machine is a great invention, but anyone with kidney problems would rather get a transplant than dyalisis. Ask yourself why.

One important thing to keep in mind when discussing the near future (i.e. the next 20 years) is that we are on an exponential curve in technological development. In fact we are at a very special time in that curve, called the "knee of the curve" where each successive advance in technology allows us to create the next even more quickly. I encourage everyone on the forum to read Ray Kurzweil's "The Sigularity is Near" - we're in for a wild ride if he's right.

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Just about any airplane today can fly higher, faster and further than a bird, yes. But no plane ever made fliee like a bird (or an insect for that matter). To be sure there are similarities in the design of planes and birds, but these arise out of different "solutions" to the same problem. Simply put, no plane flies by flapping its wings, and no bird flies by making use of a propeller, rotor or jet engine.

Most birds, too, are more efficient than airplanes. A hummingbird can turn a few drops of nectar into minutes of flight. We couldn't extract enough energy from nectar to make a humminbgird-sized plane fly.

In other words, while both birds and Man can fly, they do so by vastly different means requiring different power sources, raw materials, even staging areas (not all birds like airports).

Likewise:

A microprocessor does not work like a cluster of neurons and glial cells. So even if both can add 2+2 correctly, they do so by different means. It's a matter of specualtion whether we can even emulate electronically what the brain does organically. Another point is that organisms and cells are far more complex than any machine.

I think if we ever create a true, conscious, conceptual and volitional A.I., it will be through biological means. Not necessarily by engineering brain cells, but perhaps by engineering cells that can function as part of a machine. And that is far in the future, if at all possible.

And what magical property is it that biology has which allows thought, that electronics does not possess? Why should it matter that biological neurons use ribosomes and mitochondria, instead of the silicon of an electronic "neuron?" I don't doubt that we are a long way from such technology, but if the interactions between neurons that produce what we call consciousness can be replicated with electronic circuits, why would you not be willing to call it consciousness?

The example you gave about planes, etc. doesn't really work...b/c it's conceivable that a plane could be invented that flies by flapping it's wings. It is conceivable that, someday, scientists could construct--atom by atom--an actual human brain. If they can do it with biological matter, they can do it with silicon. What reason is there to suppose that carbon is inherently better at sustaining "consciousness" than silicon?

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If they can do it with biological matter, they can do it with silicon. What reason is there to suppose that carbon is inherently better at sustaining "consciousness" than silicon?

I don't believe that consciousness is necessarily restricted to biological form, but I think it is a possibility. I don't think there is sufficient evidence to make any "probability" claims in this field, at least not by amateurs.

Why would consciousness be restricted to biology? It depends on what you mean by "biology." You might mean an artificial aggregation of neurons from normal brain cells. You might mean a collection engineered cells which retain the basic mechanisms of life (DNA/RNA/proteins/mitochondria, etc). Or it could be artificial cells which retains only the basic organic compounds - nucleic and amino acids, ATP, etc. Or, maybe something entirely different from biological life which is organic in the sense that it uses carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen as the basic building blocks.

If it is safe to assume that any volitional intelligence must be built with nanotechnology (this is likely for a number of reasons), then the relevant question is - can we build sufficiently advanced technology in any arrangement other than what nature uses? Existing evidence suggests otherwise. I can suggest two reasons offhand: First, due to its chemical properties, carbon is uniquely suited for nanotechnological structures, whereas other elements, like silicon are not. Second, life on earth evolved very early, but only once. This tentatively suggests that it is not that difficult for life to begin, but the possible configuration space for suitable nanotechnology is small.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

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And what magical property is it that biology has which allows thought, that electronics does not possess?

Chemistry. Carbon does long molecule chains in all sorts of shapes. Silicon, while chemically similar to carbon (indeed they are so grouped in the periodic table), cannot match that ability. Simple version: carbon makes diamond, silicon makes quartz. Slightly longer version: Silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust (first or second along with Oxygen). In over 4.5 billion years there's not ashred of evidence silicon has shown any inclination to make an organic molecule.

Why should it matter that biological neurons use ribosomes and mitochondria, instead of the silicon of an electronic "neuron?"

Because a neuron, and a glial cell for that matter, are a great deal more comlpex than the silicon on/off switches used in electronics. A neuron does a lot more than transmit "electrical impulses." It also makes and "transmits" a great many chemicals like neurotransmiters and such. And we have only a vague notion as yet of how the brain works. Not long ago it was thought glial cells were a mere scaffolding for neurons. Now scientists are finding all sorts of functions involved in glial cells.

Given we don't know how the brain works, or even fully how neurons work, how can we say sophisticated electronics can mimic them exactly, or even better?

The example you gave about planes, etc. doesn't really work...b/c it's conceivable that a plane could be invented that flies by flapping it's wings.

Maybe someone could come up with one. I'd be surprised if it were worth the trouble.

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Chemistry. Carbon does long molecule chains in all sorts of shapes. Silicon, while chemically similar to carbon (indeed they are so grouped in the periodic table), cannot match that ability. Simple version: carbon makes diamond, silicon makes quartz. Slightly longer version: Silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust (first or second along with Oxygen). In over 4.5 billion years there's not ashred of evidence silicon has shown any inclination to make an organic molecule.

Actually silicon and oxygen will form chains Si-O-Si-O and quartz is a 3-D lattice of these pairings.

Technically it must have a carbon atom in it to be organic, so silicon cannot form organic molecules; but the real point is that silicon, or even silicon-oxygen, does not form the rich array of molecules--or really, molecular backbones--that carbon does, and I have not heard of silicon (or silicon-oxygen) forming rings as carbon will.

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Technically it must have a carbon atom in it to be organic, so silicon cannot form organic molecules; but the real point is that silicon, or even silicon-oxygen, does not form the rich array of molecules--or really, molecular backbones--that carbon does, and I have not heard of silicon (or silicon-oxygen) forming rings as carbon will.

It must contain carbon to be organic because only carbon spontaneously makes such kinds of molecules. But silicon can be artificially made to form such molecules, as is done to make silicon-based lubricants (an early experiment on organic-type silicon molecules yielded Silly Putty). I don't know if it forms rings.

Elements are arranged in columns in the periodic table according to their chemical properties, or, if you preffer, to the electron arrangement on their outer-most electron shells (which means they'll have similar properties). For example, all the noble gases ahve a full outer electron shell, meaning they don't naturally react with anything else, or are chemically innert.

Thus carbon and silicon belong in the same group and have similar properties. But Carbon is a smaller atom, and its outermost electron shell is closer to the nucleus. This means it can form stronger bonds than silicon, regardles of whether they are single, double or triple bonds. That's part of the reason for the difference, no doubt a chemist or physicist should have a better explanation (like mass, size, kinetic properties, etc).

In any case, carbon unaided by Man can form long polymers, organic molecules and even living beings, silicon cannot. Silicon can with the aid of Man form more complex molecular chains than it can in nature, but still falls far short of carbon (BTW carbon is not a good material for microchips the way silicon is).

Now, an AI need not be of organic silicon, of course, or even be amde of silicon at all. Other elements might be better. Gallium shows great romise for microelectronics, but it's more expensive (silicon is as common as sand, largely because it is sand). My point is that naturally ocurring carbon-based molecules are very complex. When these are part of living beings, they grow in complexity, especially as regards function, to a much more greater degree. A degree we can't yet approach through artificial means, be they lectronic, chemical, or biochemical.

Therefore claiming that anything nature can do electronics will be able to do better is a stretch.

Man can do, through the use of his mind, certain things better than nature (or at least make them stronger, faster, higher, more durable, etc, etc). More important man can do things that don't exist in nature, like houses, buildings, computers, cars, airplanes, rockets, medicine, sience, philosophy, etc etc. But just as an airplane is not really a mechanical bird, so computers are not electronic brains. Planes do some of the things that birds do, and computers do some of the things brains do, but they are not equivalent or, in many instances, even very similar.

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I admit that I'm no authority on this topic, so I may be talking out of my ass. But I just haven't heard of any reason why man-made things cannot be conscious, by definition. If the chemical properties of silicon don't make it feasible, then fine. But my underlying point remains. Why can't we build things using carbon? Essentially taking nature's design and improving on it.

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Therefore claiming that anything nature can do electronics will be able to do better is a stretch.

I'm not sure what you're basing that "therefor" on. (unless you're talking strictly about the chemical properties of materials we are using in computers today, but that would be pointless to argue over) You correctly said that computers aren't yet as complex as brains. Why does that prove that they're not going to be as good, or even better? We do have the same materials at our disposal that the evolutionary process had.

I disagree that the fact that we don't know how that would be possible is proof enough. All you have to do to see irrefutable evidence that a machine complex enough to think exists, is look in the mirror. There are no laws of the natural world which prevent such a machine from existing, therefor, given enough time and resources, it can be built. That's not an arbitrary claim: we know for a fact that we can manipulate even the smallest objects which make up the human brain (so there isn't the possibility that it would be physically impossible to build something that just fell into place once before), and we know that the complexity of a human brain is finite (since we do know and can measure its smallest components).

And airplanes may not be like birds, but they most certainly are much faster, much bigger and even more reliable, which is what we were aiming for when we designed them. If we were aiming for something that can flap its wings real fast and hover, I see no reason why we couldn't have just as easily created that. [Well I do see why, actually-no one could have as much resources at their disposal as the people who created modern airplanes had, because not enough people have a use for artificial birds- but that's not a technological reason. I see no reason why it wouldn't be possible, with similar resources and motivation available.]

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I'm curious as to why you think a "thinking machine" is impossible. We are capable of thinking, and we were produced by the nonconscious natural world, through the painstakingly slow process of natural selection. We have already produced things that, for certain functions, outdo anything that nature ever designed in modern animals (supersonic flight, for instance). Why should thought be any different? The brain is immensely complex, but once we have more or less reverse-engineered it, I see no reason why we cannot produce, not only a thinking machine, but a machine whose capacity for thought is far superior to our own. The only way to defend the proposition that man-made objects are inherently incapable of thinking is to posit some magical quality in the brains of modern animals. If you want to take that road, you've gone down the road of religion.

I shouldn't have made that claim, I really only meant that it is nothing like anything we have now, or are actually researching now.

Though if we made an atom for atom model of the human brain, would it actually function? Atomically, there is no difference between a dead brain and a live one.

Also, "thinking machine" is a contradiction in terms.

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But I just haven't heard of any reason why man-made things cannot be conscious, by definition.

Do you know of a reason why they can be?

If the chemical properties of silicon don't make it feasible, then fine. But my underlying point remains. Why can't we build things using carbon? Essentially taking nature's design and improving on it.

We can build lots of things using carbon. I said before it's not a good material for microchips, but some forms of carbon may serve for superior forms of electronics. We'll see.

My point is that comparing even today's most complex computer to the human brain is very much a stretch, it's not even close.

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I'm not saying we can do it today...just that there's no reason to think it's impossible.

My reason for thinking that man-made things can be conscious? Because the unintelligent processes of nature created us. Unless there's some reason to think that the only way consciousness can exist is in the form that nature actually made it, then there is no reason to think that we cannot make artificial consciousness.

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I'm not saying we can do it today...just that there's no reason to think it's impossible.

I still don't see a reason to think it's possible.

My reason for thinking that man-made things can be conscious? Because the unintelligent processes of nature created us. Unless there's some reason to think that the only way consciousness can exist is in the form that nature actually made it, then there is no reason to think that we cannot make artificial consciousness.

So because in unintelligent nature time only flows forward, there's no reason to think it can be made to flow backward?

Nature also produced life. We haven't, yet.

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Atomically, there is no difference between a dead brain and a live one.

I'm not a biologist, but nevertheless, I can state with some confidence: of course there is. Blood stops supplying the brain with Oxygen molecules, so the braincells die from the lack of it. (O2 is made up of two oxygen atoms, the absence of which-among other things the blood supplies the brain with, also made up of atoms- are causing the brain to die.)

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