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Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Comment on Artificial Imbecillence

Also published at the World Future Society.

Nobody thinks that pouring more sand onto a pile of sand -- or even pouring more abacuses onto a pile of abacuses -- is the least bit likely eventually to prompt the pile to "wake up" and become intelligent, even though the pile grows incomparably more complex the larger it grows. I suspect the reason why some people think that computers, networks, or software might eventually "wake up" and become intelligent if they keep making them more and more complex is often just because they are already using computational, networked, and coding metaphors to think about intelligence in the first place.

I fear it is not so much that computers are liable to wake up any time soon, as that we are falling asleep to the distinctiveness of actually incarnated intelligence through a fashionable computational figuration of intelligence.

It should not be difficult to grasp that while such metaphors may capture some of the qualities of intelligence as it is incarnated in the material dispositions of brains, it is also obviously true that brains are finally much less like what we think of when we think of computers than they are like what we think of when we think of glands and hence that we probably have plenty of reasons to think metaphors proposing otherwise may be misleading us at least as often as they are enlightening us.

That advocates of artificial intelligence have been confidently predicting the arrival of artificial intelligence more or less since the inaugural moments the disciplines of cybernetics and computer science and robotics emerged on the scene with an incessance undiminished by the absolute relentlessness of their failures to be right on this and other key questions is just one of the ways in which these metaphors might be said to be misleading those who make recourse to them. But I think the more damaging and dangerous consequence of this inapt metaphorization of intelligence is that it is now leading so many of us in our everyday lives to attribute intelligence to bleakly unintelligent artifacts like automobiles and media devices with the consequence that we are rendered less capable of grasping and honoring what is so vitally different and indispensable to the dignity and destiny of actually intelligent beings in the world and owning up to our responsibilities to that intelligence in its lived differences.


aepxc said...

If intelligence were just a product of networked computational complexity, the Internet should have woken up a long time ago.

Dale Carrico said...

Hell, the telegraph network should have done by the mid nineteenth century.