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Artificial Intelligence: Can Science Truly Recreate You?

PHOTO COURTESY of Christine Daniloff/MIT

PHOTO COURTESY of Christine Daniloff/MIT

With the unprecedented rise of millennial computing, lightning fast telecommunication, vibrant social media and virtually limitless access to information, our lives are consumed by a torrent of powerful technological influences.

The gap between who we are at a deeper, more philosophical level and who we appear to be on our various web profiles is simultaneously widened and blurred by recent scientific and technological advancements. “Who we are” has become a vexing and tiresomely complex concept, and in our push toward increasingly more efficient modes of survival, we seem to have run out of collective patience with it.

Yet in spite of this, debates over what makes us who we are continue today. The age-old question of how our minds interact with our bodies has been passed off from philosophers to computer scientists and engineers. Some of the latter figures claim that the advent of robotics and more sophisticated computing methods has made inevitable what Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil refers to as our “next stage of evolution”— by which he means artificial intelligence. A.I. is, in simplified terms, a rapidly accelerating field that tries replicating human functions and capabilities in machines to the fullest extent that current technology allows.

But is it possible for machines to exhibit complete human intelligence and consciousness?

UC Santa Barbara Psychology professor Stan Klein, whose research focuses on issues related to social knowledge representation, said that mainstream psychology believes that humans are machines, and thus can be understood from principles that comprise the backbone of modern applications in machine technology.

“The materialist dogma of modern science threatens to remove the [mind-body] issue from discussion, since it does not fit their metaphysical presumptions,” Klein said. “Perhaps they are right — or perhaps one can intelligently widen the scope of physicalism to encompass experience.”

At the forefront of such “physicalist” groups today are neuroscientists, many of whom believe that the mind can be fully reduced to electrochemical and mechanical bodily functions. From this perspective, replicating human consciousness in machines may prove less difficult than expected.

This possibility once pondered only in science fiction thrillers (in which the robots typically end up rebelling against their creators and destroying humanity) is becoming more compelling with the integration of technology and automation into nearly every facet of our lives, and may even become perfectly natural.

But is it scientifically feasible?

Albert Shin, a UC Santa Barbara Philosophy doctorate alumni and visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, said that even if we can explain the various workings of the brain, we are still missing something in our explanation of day-to-day conscious experience.

“With recent developments in cognitive and neuroscience, it is easy to think that all there is to the mind is a collection of brain cells,” Shin said. “Admittedly, the evidence suggests that there is a much closer relationship between mind and body than was argued by dualists like Descartes. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that all there is to the mind is simply matter.”

How these debates will pan out is still yet to be determined. But in proceeding, we should not forget to keep asking ourselves two basic questions. Who are we? And to what extent can — or more aptly, should — we allow science to answer that question for us?

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3 Responses to Artificial Intelligence: Can Science Truly Recreate You?

  1. stan klein

    September 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    I commend the author on doing a good job interpreting my my response to an email requesting thoughts on the very challenging topic of mind and brain. While the quotes certainly are accurate, I am not sure my sentiments were fully captured.

    I categorically — lest there be any confusion — do not think that the materialist assumptions actually they are typically unacknowledged metaphysical assertions)of modern psychology, and in particular neuroscience, are anywhere near to or adequate for capturing the essence of experience as it is given to sentient creatures. To say that in the passing of time the “apparent gap” between experience and neuron will close is simply promissory note assertion. Nothing more is sanctioned by ANYTHING currently being done in philosophy or psychology.

    We are our experiences (in a very real sense of one aspect of self — a term some less than informed “thinkers” have tried to banish from discussion by relegating “it” to the status of an illusion. But an illusion, being an experience, would appear to require an experiencer, and hence the “logic” of this approach eats itself.).

    Until we are able to show (much less describe) how mental experience (all that now is undeniably your phenomenology) is subserved by non-experiential processes, psychology and neuroscience will continue erecting a bridge to 19th century mechanics.

  2. Daniel Hu

    September 1, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    Hi Suraj,

    I’m Daniel Hu, and I’m representing the Lifenaut Project for their social media. I stumbled upon this blog post and I think you would be interested in our work.

    We have a two-fold mission: first, you can create a free AI “Mindfile”, that you then upload content to and teach until it becomes a mirror of your own personality. This is a working service that directly answers your question – perhaps you would be interested in checking it out.

    Second, we go a step further in “recreating you” and encourage users to send us their “Biofile”, or DNA, that we then store at extremely low temperature indefinitely. The goal is that eventually we will be able to grow you a new body, then download your Mindfile to that body so you can be reborn in the future.

    If this sounds interesting to you I would love to speak to you further, and maybe put you in touch with the project leads or our own homegrown robot. It could make a great story. You can contact me at dh1281@nyu.edu.

    I look forward to hearing from you!
    Daniel Hu

  3. Nathan

    August 30, 2014 at 4:52 am

    I believe it is the day-to-day conscious experience which is key.

    To some extent learning and functional processing is trivial. It is our sense or apprehension of reality, of self, of the abstract etc. which I think most succinctly illustrates what the mind is.

    Unless such a sense of existence is a delusion it seems difficult to conceive of a mechanism by which this could be encoded.