Russell and Duenes

Computers Will Never Have Minds

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I was listening to a talk by Dr. Ravi Zacharias this morning, and he was recounting an anecdote where renowned Russian chess player, Gary Kasparov, expressed his fear of playing a computer at chess. Kasparov feared to play the machine because he worried that defeat might strip him of some part of his human dignity. To this sentiment, Yale computer science professor,David Gelernter, gave a response for the ages (You can read Gelernter’s whole piece in Time Magazine), which I thought worthy of quoting here in full.

But when you think about it carefully, the idea that Deep Blue has a mind is absurd. How can an object that wants nothing, fears nothing, enjoys nothing, needs nothing and cares about nothing have a mind? It can win at chess, but not because it wants to. It isn’t happy when it wins or sad when it loses. What are its apres-match plans if it beats Kasparov? Is it hoping to take Deep Pink out for a night on the town? It doesn’t care about chess or anything else. It plays the game for the same reason a calculator adds or a toaster toasts: because it is a machine designed for that purpose.

Computers as we know them will never have minds. No matter what amazing feats they perform, inside they will always be the same absolute zero …

One of the biggest obstacles has been technologists’ naivete about the character of human thought, their tendency to confuse thinking with analytical problem solving. They forget that when you look out the window and let your mind wander, or fall asleep and dream, you are also thinking. They tend to overlook something that such mind-obsessed poets as Wordsworth and Coleridge understood two centuries ago: that thought is largely a process of stringing memories together, and that memories are often linked by emotion. No computer can achieve artificial thought without achieving artificial emotion too …

It is conceivable that one day, computers will be better than humans at nearly everything. I can imagine that a person might someday have a computer for a best friend. That will be sad–like having a dog for your best friend but even sadder.

Computers might one day be capable of expressing themselves in vivid prose or fluent poetry, but unfortunately they will still be computers and have nothing to say. The gap between human and surrogate is permanent and will never be closed. Machines will continue to make life easier, healthier, richer and more puzzling. And human beings will continue to care, ultimately, about the same things they always have: about themselves, about one another and, many of them, about God. On those terms, machines have never made a difference. And they never will.


HT: for the quote, Shadow Council


Written by Michael Duenes

April 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy

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