May 10, 2006

Our view of the mind

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18. Albert Einstein

Common sense in humans can be range from the universal to the very specific and can depend on someone's culture and background: some external influences are constant from population to population and some are not.

Common sense is something that artificial intelligence researchers are having trouble teaching to robots. Yet many researchers in neurology maintain that the human mind relies solely on the functioning of the information processing system that is the brain: a series of interconnected neurons. It is as yet unknown how 'automated' our brain functions are or how much is nature and how much nurture. Indeed, some scientists and philosophers are edging towards a wider viewpoint, that the mind encompasses the actions of the brain together with far more complex and adaptive interactions with the physical environment.

The fact that the automated view of the human mind is widely accepted is, I think, very interesting as it has some difficult implications. If our minds are but a series of automated circuits, is there anything that distinguishes us from robots? Are we not just a more sopisticated version of the same system? What implications does this have for our concepts of the 'mind' and the 'soul' and even of 'life' itself?


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  1. James

    A lull in the cricket allows me to cut and paste the following extract from an interview with Stanley Kubrick himself (it is from 1969 and is probably one of the last he ever did). Least I or Sarah get in trouble from copyright, it is from link quoting "The Film Director as Superstar" (Doubleday and Company: Garden City, New York)
    Copyright ©1970 Joseph Gelmis, All Rights Reserved:

    "One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated — as ours soon will be — by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with such creatures.

    In the specific case of HAL, he had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility. The idea of neurotic computers is not uncommon — most advanced computer theorists believe that once you have a computer which is more intelligent than man and capable of learning by experience, it's inevitable that it will develop an equivalent range of emotional reactions — fear, love, hate, envy, etc. Such a machine could eventually become as incomprehensible as a human being, and could, of course, have a nervous breakdown — as HAL did in the film."

    So perhaps we will become more robotic–like, as the astronauts are in the film, but at the same time superadvanced machines might take on human characteristics ….

    11 May 2006, 15:05


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