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Let's Pause and Consider the Dangers of Humanized Robots

Let's Pause and Consider the Dangers of Humanized Robots

Tuesday, 28 August 2018 09:08 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In October pf 2017, Saudi Arabia became the first country on earth to award citizenship to a robot, named "Sophia." This robot was thereby awarded a privilege that Saudi Arabia denies to approximately one-third of its human work force.

While Saudi Arabia may be the first nation to do this, I fear it will not be the last.

And, sadly, many prominent people in the academy and in industry are smoothing the past for the disastrous arrival of the "robot citizen," with the right to vote in ever increasing numbers.

In 1950, Alan Turing, one of the century’s pioneers in computer science and a leader of the Bletchley Park codebreakers in World War II, proposed a solution to the age-old problem, "can machines think?"

His proposal is now known as the "Turing Test." A computer program "passes" the "Turing Test" when it is able to simulate human verbal communication so artfully that ordinary human beings cannot tell whether they are interacting with the machine — or with a fellow human being.

Turing and his followers believe that if and when a machine passes this test, we should for all practical purposes treat the machine as a conscious thinker and a real person.

The "Turing Test" was a product of a philosophical theory dominating the middle of the last century; that theory is known as "Logical Positivism."

According to "Logical Positivism," the meaning of any statement consists in a positive result for some empirical test. A statement tht cannot be tested and "verified" in the laboratory is meaningless, according to the positivists. Hence, the statement that a certain machine is or is not a real person must be reducible to some empirical test. The "Turing Test" is a plausible candidate. How else could we verify the personhood of a robot, except by testing its behavior and using actual humans as our standard?

Logical positivism, however, has utterly collapsed within modern philosophy. It is perhaps the most decisively refuted theory in the entire history of philosophy. Here is a simple refutation. Consider the "Verification Principle" itself, that is, the principle that all unverifiable statements are meaningless.

The "Verification Principle" is itself empirically unverifiable: there is no laboratory test that can tell whether or not a statement is meaningful. Therefore, if "Logical Positivism" is true, its central tenet is meaningless. Thus, "Logical Positivism" cannot be true.

This means that we have no reason to trust the "Turing Test."

In fact, human beings are notoriously bad at detecting whether we are interacting with a fellow perosn. We human beings have a tendency to anthromorphize inaninimate objects, from the ancient worship of the sun to the modern person’s cursing a laser printer.

A very relevant example of this occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's  (MIT) Artificial Intelligence Laboratory between 1964 to 1966.

Joseph Weizenbaum developed a very simple computer program called "Eliza" which entered into dialogue with human users, simulating the verbal questions and responses of a Rogerian, non-directive psycho-therapist.

Despite the extraordinary simplicity of the program, which essentially mirrored the human user’s statements, users became utterly and stubbornly convinced that they were speaking with a real person.

Although no computer program can currently pass the "Turing Test" with sophisticated human users, I believe that it is only a matter of time (10 to 15 years) before this happens.

But this does not mean that we will have created true artificial persons at that point, or at any point in the future. Only natural organisms, like human beings, can be real persons.

An artifact, no matter how sophisticated its behavior, is simply a collection of parts that have been artfully arranged for a certain purpose. Such a collection of parts can never have the kind of metaphysical unity that is required for true personhood. A person has holistic characteristics, such as thoughts, feelings, and acts of will, characteristics that can never arise from the mere combination of physical and chemical parts.

These facts were grasped by the Greek philosopher Aristotle over 2500 years ago, in his masterpiece "On the Soul" ("De Anima").

In recent years, there has been a revival of neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Two of my colleagues, William Simpson and Nicholas Teh, and I recently edited an anthology, "Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Sceince," in which our contributors argue that contemporary physics and biology supports Aristotle’s metaphysical holism.

In the 2013 movie "Her," Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with this phone’s operating system, named "Samantha" (its voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson).

I had high hopes for the movie. At last, I thought, a movie about the grave psychological and social dangers of confusing computer programs with real people. Unfortunately, the screenwriters took the opposite tack, presenting Samantha as a real person on her way to a "higher plane of existence."

The first half of the movie can nonetheless serve as a sobering look at the dangers of replacing real people with simulated duplicates.

Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Only natural organisms, like human beings, can be real. An artifact, no matter how sophisticated its behavior, is simply a collection of parts artfully arranged for a certain purpose. Such a collection of parts can never have the kind of unity required for personhood.
saudi arabia, citizenship, mit
Tuesday, 28 August 2018 09:08 AM
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