2015 : WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?

Classics Scholar, University Librarian, ASU; Author, Pagans; Webmaster, St. Augustine's Website
Nobody Would Ever Ask A Machine What It Thinks About Machines That Think

 

1. "Thinking" is a word we apply with no discipline whatsoever to a huge variety of reported behaviors. "I think I'll go to the store" and "I think it's raining" and "I think therefore I am" and "I think the Yankees will win the World Series" and "I think I am Napoleon" and "I think he said he would be here, but I'm not sure," all use the same word to mean entirely different things. Which of them might a machine do someday?  I think that's an important question.

2. Could a machine get confused? Experience cognitive dissonance? Dream? Wonder? Forget the name of that guy over there and at the same time know that it really knows the answer and if it just thinks about something else for a while might remember? Lose track of time? Decide to get a puppy? Have low self-esteem? Have suicidal thoughts? Get bored? Worry? Pray? I think not.
 
3. Can artificial mechanisms be constructed to play the part in gathering information and making decisions that human beings now do? Sure, they already do. The ones that control the fuel injection on my car are a lot smarter than I am. I think I'd do a lousy job of that.
 
4. Could we create machines that go further and act without human supervision in ways that prove to be very good or very bad for human beings? I guess so. I think I'll love them except when they do things that make me mad—then they'll really be like people. I suppose they could run amok and create mass havoc, but I have my doubts. (Of course, if they do, nobody will care what I think.)
 
5. But nobody would ever ask a machine what it thinks about machines that think. It's a question that only makes sense if we care about the thinker as an autonomous and interesting being like ourselves. If somebody ever does ask a machine this question, it won't be a machine any more. I think I'm not going to worry about it for a while. You may think I'm in denial.
 
6. When we get tangled up in this question, we need to ask ourselves just what it is we're really thinking about.