Can’t compute the wood for the trees

Computer scientist David Gelernter has written an in-depth article for Technology Review where he criticises the possibility of creating artificial consciousness, but has high hopes for unconscious artificial intelligence.

My case for the near-impossibility of conscious software minds resembles what others have said. But these are minority views. Most AI researchers and philosophers believe that conscious software minds are just around the corner. To use the standard term, most are “cognitivists.” Only a few are “anticognitivists.” I am one. In fact, I believe that the cognitivists are even wronger than their opponents usually say.

But my goal is not to suggest that AI is a failure. It has merely developed a temporary blind spot. My fellow anticognitivists have knocked down cognitivism but have done little to replace it with new ideas. They’ve showed us what we can’t achieve (conscious software intelligence) but not how we can create something less dramatic but nonetheless highly valuable: unconscious software intelligence. Once AI has refocused its efforts on the mechanisms (or algorithms) of thought, it is bound to move forward again.

Gelernter is a a great writer and an interesting guy, not least because of his brush with death, courtesy of disturbed anti-technologist Ted Kaczynski aka ‘The Unabomber’.

Link to TechReview article ‘Artificial Intelligence Is Lost in the Woods’.

8 thoughts on “Can’t compute the wood for the trees”

  1. Saying that AI will be able to do everything except “consciousness” sounds almost like claiming, “One day, computer programs will be able to reproduce all human faculties except stereo hearing and color vision,” except the faculty invoked in the claim is far less specific.

  2. I support Blake Stacey.
    I’ve read only 5 pages yet but amazed how empty of meaning the article is, how flawed are the arguments. Several emotion-ladden vague notions are repeatedly used as mantras. Examples are just laughable. Was Unabomber ‘disturbed’ by such articles too? No wander.
    Evoking the sensations by lines like “to feel spring rain, stroke someone’s face, drink when it was thirsty” is like hacking the reader’s brain through emotional centers, trying to lure the prefrontal cortex into agreeing with logically flawed statements.
    P.S. The Mind Hacks blog surely looses about 95% of comments due to excruciating registration procedure.
    P.P.S. Could I suggest a theme? Sabine Bahn of Cambridge has recently made an announcement of blood tests for schizophrenia, biporal disorder, and depression. Seems interesting to me.

  3. For example:
    “One water molecule isn’t wet; two aren’t; three aren’t; 100 aren’t; but at some point we cross a threshold, something happens, and the result is a drop of water. But this trick only works because of the chemistry and physics of water molecules! It won’t work with just any kind of molecule. Nor can you take just any kind of molecule, give it the right “tasks to perform,” and make it a fit raw material for producing water.”
    But, for God’s sake, the consciousness is a process, while water is a substance. Water could flow, and other materials could flow in certain conditions – what’s that should be compared. Substances are compared with substances, processes with processes. Consciousness is a process. “Flying” is a process, so planes and birds and whatever could fly no matter what chemical or structural properties of an object are.

  4. I personally think that the development of AI is ever-increasing the possibility of actually producing artificial beings that have both the conscious and the unconscious. But why do we continue to develop such artificiality? Surely it’s not in human nature to divide ourselves away from Mother Nature?
    Is it?

  5. On comments – registration is necessary on for a moveabletype blog because of the amount of spam you get otherwise. I recently moved by personal blog to WordPress and that seems far supriour – perhaps we should do that for too

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